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Chopper Found, 3 Soldiers Dead

An Army helicopter that vanished during a rainy late night training flight on Monday was found Tuesday night on a riverbank, where it was spotted by a trucker.

The bodies of the three soldiers who were aboard the UH-60 Black Hawk were at first nowhere in sight, and divers were dispatched to search the Great Pee Dee River, where what's left of the aircraft was found.

Not long afterwards the Army was forced to deliver the sad news: all three crew members perished.

Their bodies have been found and their names are being withheld until the families have been notified.

The wreckage of the UH-60 Black Hawk was found near a bridge off Interstate 95, about 100 miles northeast of Columbia, Maj. Rich Patterson, a Fort Bragg spokesman at the command post here. The helicopter was reported missing at about 9:50 p.m. Monday night during a flight from Fort Bragg, N.C., to Florence that involved training with night vision goggles.

The helicopter was spotted by a truck driver on his way home along I-95 who heard about the missing aircraft and joined the search. On his third pass through the area, he noticed tree damage and what looked like a wheel near the riverbank and called authorities, said Dusty Owens, director of the Florence County Emergency Management.

Heavy foliage in the swampy area just north of Florence and near the North Carolina state line made it difficult to see the chopper, Owens said.

Rain and thunderstorms had moved across South Carolina on Monday evening, but Army officials early Tuesday said the weather should not have been a factor.

"Obviously, it was inclement weather but our aircraft and crews can fly in that," Lt. Col. Billy Buckner, a Fort Bragg spokesman, told reporters - noting that the Army did not receive a distress signal from the aircraft.

The Army is investigating the cause of the accident.

A second helicopter on the training mission landed in a nearby airfield when it lost contact with the missing Black Hawk.