Nine US Army soldiers have been killed when two Black Hawk helicopters crashed during a training mission over Kentucky, according to authorities.
Four crew members were on one helicopter and five were on the other during the crash in the community of Cadiz in Trigg County late Wednesday, according to an Army spokesperson.
The aircraft were HH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, operated by the 101st Airborne Division based at Fort Campbell along the Kentucky-Tennessee border they collided mid-aid and crash landed in a field near a residential area around 10pm (02:00 GMT), according to Brigadier General John Lubas, the 101st Airborne deputy commander. He said there were no injuries on the ground
Lubas said the crash occurred during routine night training, with crew wearing night-vision goggles. He said a specialised safety team was coming to the site to review the incident.
“I think in a short time, we will have a much better understanding of what may have contributed to this accident,” Lubdas said at a news conference early Thursday.
“This is a truly tragic loss for our families, our division and Fort Campbell. And our number-one priority is caring for the families and the soldiers within our Combat Aviation Brigade,”
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said the soldiers will be “mourned and missed by their families, by their communities”.
“We love all the people that live here and that work here. They’re part of our community of who we are,” he said of Fort Campbell. “Their loss today is our loss.”
Members of the Kentucky Senate stood for a moment of silence Thursday morning in honour of the crash victims.
“We do not know the extent of what has gone on, but I understand it is bad and there has been a substantial loss of life of our military,” Senate President Robert Stivers said.
We’ve got some tough news out of Fort Campbell, with early reports of a helicopter crash and fatalities are expected. @kystatepolice, @KentuckyEM and local officials are responding. We will share more information as available. Please pray for all those affected.
— Governor Andy Beshear (@GovAndyBeshear) March 30, 2023
Nick Tomaszewski, who lives about a mile (1.6km) from where the crash occurred, told The Associated Press news agency 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 said.
The helicopters flew over and looped back around and moments later, “We saw what looked like a firework went off in the sky.”
“All of the lights in their helicopter went out. It was like they just poofed … and then we saw a huge glow like a fireball,” Tomaszewski said.
The incident came a month after two Tennessee National Guard pilots were killed when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed along an Alabama highway during a training exercise.
Black Hawk helicopters have been a critical workhorse for the US Army in recent decades, providing security, transport, medical evacuations, search and rescue and other missions.