The nine service members who died when two U.S. Army helicopters crashed in Kentucky on Wednesday night were conducting nighttime medical evacuation drills, officials say.
The deaths came when two HH-60 medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) Black Hawk helicopters flown by the 101st Airborne Division were taking part in what was described as a “routine training mission” when they crashed in Trigg County at around 10 p.m., an earlier Fort Campbell statement read.
“The command is currently focused on caring for the servicemembers and their families,” the statement said.
U.S. Army Col. John W. Lubas said the service members were conducting drills in special medical evacuation aircraft, but “we believe that the accident occurred when they were doing flying, not deliberate medical evacuation drills.”
They were flying in “multistep formation” with “two ships under night vision goggles at night,” he said. It was typical for four to five service members to be on each aircraft for such drills, including a pilot, co-pilot, and medics, he said.
“Despite our losses, we were lucky because they were able to land in an open field across from a residential area,” Lubas said. “So thankfully, there were no additional casualties.”
Investigators will examine the aircrafts’ black boxes to get a better understanding of how they crashed, he said.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear made a separate comment on his Twitter account late Wednesday. “We’ve got some tough news out of Fort Campbell, with early reports of a helicopter crash and fatalities are expected.” Kentucky State Police and the state’s Division of Emergency Management were responding to the incident, Beshear added. “We will share more information as available. Please pray for all those affected.”
WKDZ radio in Cadiz, Kentucky, reported that a witness living half a mile from the crash site heard a “pop” and “two booms,” while others at the scene said several military helicopters had been flying over the area in recent nights.
Fort Campbell, one of the biggest Army bases in the U.S., is described as a “major maneuver installation” by the Department of Defense. The installation, positioned on the Kentucky-Tennessee border, has a population of over 27,000 personnel.
The aircraft involved in the crashes are variants of the Black Hawk helicopter, according to the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center (USAASC), which describes the chopper as the Army’s “utility tactical transport helicopter.
Last month, a Black Hawk helicopter operated by the Tennessee National Guard crashed near Huntsville, Alabama. Two people were killed in the accident, which also took place during a training flight, Alabama authorities said.
In 2018, two U.S. soldiers died when their Apache helicopter crashed in a training area of Fort Campbell.