Army Investigates Black Hawk Crash

A U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter similar to the two that crash Monday Feb. 12, 2001 in Hawaii, takes off at Rinas Airport in Tirana, Albania, Monday May 3, 1999. Seven soldiers were killed Monday when two Army Black Hawk helicopters crashed during a nighttime exercise on the North Shore of Oahu, across the island from Honolulu, said Capt. Richard Soo, of the Honolulu Fire Department. (AP Photo/U.S. Air Force, Staff Sergeant Angela Stafford) AP

Soldiers lowered the flag for 11 fallen comrades and returned to preparing for a possible war with Iraq as investigators Wednesday tried to determine what caused the crash of a Black Hawk helicopter during a training exercise. Fort Drum is planning a memorial for Friday in remembrance of the 11 soldiers killed in the crash.

Two of the 13 soldiers aboard the helicopter survived. One was in critical condition, the other in serious condition.

Maj. Gen. Frank Hagenbeck said the two soldiers talked to him Wednesday morning about the crash, but would not release any details.

"Obviously they're very grateful they're alive, but they're heartbroken and traumatized by the loss of their brothers," he said.

Investigators from the Army Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., were on the scene Wednesday, joined by personnel from Fort Drum's Criminal Investigation Command, which reviews all accidents on the base. Their work was slowed by heavy snowfall.

Fort Drum, situated along the eastern shore of Lake Ontario about 70 miles northeast of Syracuse, is home to the 10th Mountain Division and has been a major staging area for reserve units taking part in the buildup toward war with Iraq.

The Black Hawk had completed a routine assault exercise and was returning to the airfield when the crash occurred.

There was no indication of trouble beforehand, and crews from the two other helicopters participating in the exercise did not see the crash, said Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty, a spokesman for the 10th Mountain Division.

"They came back here and that's when they noticed the trail helicopter was missing," he said.

All those aboard the helicopter were active members of the 10th Mountain Division.

Spc. Gary Pennington of Jacksonville, Fla., said people were sad about the crash, but training has to be lifelike to prepare for war.

"It bothers people. Even if you don't know them, they are comrades in arms," he said.

Spc. Vanessa Carver of Washington, D.C., said she believes Army training is relatively safe, considering what soldiers are preparing for.

"When you think about the type of training we are doing, with guns and weapons, the thousands of people involved and that it goes on daily, really few people get hurt," Carver said.

"Something like this will make everyone more cautious. People will take a little more time, be a little more focused now."

Black Hawk UH-60 helicopters are widely used transport aircraft. They are equipped with advanced avionics and electronics, such as global positioning systems.

But the helicopter has had safety problems. Since 1999, 50 soldiers have died and 40 have been injured in Black Hawk accidents, including the one on Tuesday.

Last May, hundreds of Black Hawk helicopters were grounded because of a problem detected in one helicopter's transmission.

A Black Hawk crashed in February during night training in the Kuwaiti desert, killing all four crew members. The Kuwaiti military said sandstorms were reported in the area at the time the chopper went down.

On Jan. 30, an MH-60, an adapted version of the Black Hawk, crashed during training near Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, killing four members of an elite aviation regiment.

  • Sue Chan

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