- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2023

An aircraft safety team from the Army’s aviation center will launch a detailed investigation into a deadly helicopter crash that resulted in the death of nine soldiers during a training flight near a post on the border between Kentucky and Tennessee.

Two Army HH-60 Black Hawk helicopters crashed at about 10 p.m. Wednesday in Trigg County, Kentucky, while flying in what Army officials said was a “multiship formation.” The pilots were using night vision goggles at the time but it wasn’t immediately clear whether that might have played a part.

The identity of the soldiers won’t be released until families have been notified. All were assigned to the Combat Aviation Brigade of the famed 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The helicopters had a medical evacuation role but weren’t transporting any patients at the time of the crash.

Army officials didn’t know when the notifications might be completed. While some of the soldiers have families in the immediate area, others were in different states and even foreign countries.

The helicopters featured a pilot, co-pilot, crew chief, and at least one or two passengers, which are typically Army medics. The Black Hawks reportedly collided with each other before crashing into an open field across from a residential area. No one on the ground was hurt.

“Thankfully, there were no additional casualties or injuries as a result of the crash,” Army Brig. Gen. John Lubas, deputy commander of the 101st Airborne, said Thursday during a press conference. 

The helicopter crews were unable to issue any kind of distress radio message prior to the crash, Army officials said.

A team from the Army’s aviation center at Fort Rucker, Alabama, will go through the wreckage to determine whether maintenance issues might have played a part in the crash or if there might be another explanation. 

“They’re bringing a very diverse and talented team that will look at every possible contributing factor,” Brig. Gen. Lubas said. “In a very short time, we will have a much better understanding of what may have contributed to this accident.”

The safety team will examine the flight data recorders from both helicopters. They are similar to the black boxes found on larger fixed-wing aircraft. “We’re hopeful that they will provide quite a bit of information about what happened,” Brig. Gen. Lubas said.

In a statement released Thursday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he was saddened by the training accident. 

“My heart goes out to the families of these service members and to the members of the 101st Airborne Division who bravely and proudly serve our country each and every day,” Mr. Austin said. “I am working with Army leadership to make sure our troops and their families receive the care that they need in the wake of this accident.”

Army veteran Bradley Bowman piloted helicopters for about six years before he joined the staff of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank in Washington. Pilots need specialized skills in high-speed military flying, including during bad weather and while using night-vision goggles.

Military commanders are required to balance the need for safety with the requirement for tough, realistic training to prepare soldiers for combat, Mr. Bowman said

“You need to practice and in practicing, you’re taking risks. That creates a tension,” he said. “This [crash] should remind us that every day we have service members conducting dangerous, necessary training that sometimes goes badly.”

It’s far too early to say what might have been behind Wednesday’s deadly crash. “Conjectures are not helpful,” Mr. Bowman said. “Let the investigation proceed.”

A helicopter from the Tennessee Army National Guard crashed last month during a training flight in Alabama, killing the pilot and co-pilot. The UH-60 Black Hawk was approaching the Huntsville Executive Airport on Feb. 15 when the aircraft “rapidly descended and impacted the ground,” National Guard officials said. The cause of that crash remains under investigation, officials said.

Kentucky resident Nick Tomaszewski, who lives about a mile from where the crash occurred, told The Associated Press that he saw two helicopters flying over his house moments before the crash.

“For whatever reason last night my wife and I were sitting there looking out on the back deck and I said ‘Wow, those two helicopters look low and they look kind of close to one another tonight,’” he recalled.

The helicopters flew over and looped back around and moments later “we saw what looked like a firework went off in the sky,” Mr. Tomaszewski told the wire service.

• Mike Glenn can be reached at mglenn@washingtontimes.com.

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