9 people killed as U.S. army helicopters crash during training in Kentucky

Nine people were killed in a crash involving two Black Hawk medical evacuation helicopters conducting a nighttime training exercise in Kentucky, U.S. army officials said Thursday.

Aviation safety team from Fort Rucker, Ala., to probe deadly accident

Nine killed after two U.S. army helicopters crash in Kentucky

2 months ago
Duration 0:31
Two Black Hawk helicopters crashed during a routine training mission Wednesday night in Trigg County, Ky., leaving nine people dead, according to a U.S. army spokesperson.

Nine people were killed in a crash involving two Black Hawk medical evacuation helicopters conducting a nighttime training exercise in Kentucky, U.S. army officials said Thursday.

Nondice Thurman, a spokesperson for Fort Campbell, said the deaths occurred on Wednesday night in southwestern Kentucky during a routine training mission.

A statement from Fort Campbell said the two HH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, part of the 101st Airborne Division, crashed at about 10 p.m. local time on Wednesday in Trigg County, Ky. The 101st Airborne confirmed the crash about 50 kilometres northwest of Fort Campbell. The crash is under investigation.

The helicopters crashed in a field near a residential area with no injuries on the ground, Brig.-Gen. John Lubas, the 101st Airborne deputy commander, said. One helicopter had five people aboard and the other had four, he said.

An army spokesperson declined to comment on whether the helicopters collided in the air.

"At this time, there is no determination on the specifics regarding the accident," Daniel Matthews, a public affairs officer for the 101st Airborne Division, said in an emailed statement on Thursday afternoon. Matthews said an aviation safety team from Fort Rucker, Ala., will investigate the accident.

Speaking a news conference on Thursday morning, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said the state would do everything it can to support the families of those killed.

"We're going to do what we always do: We're going to wrap our arms around these families, we're going to be with them, not just for the days, but for the weeks and days to come," he said.

Cause unknown

Lubas, the deputy commander, said it is unclear what caused the crash.

"This was a training progression, and specifically they were flying a multi-ship formation, two ships, under night vision goggles at night," he said.

Lubas added that officials believe the accident occurred when "they were doing flying, not deliberate medical evacuation drills."

Several people including one female law enforcement officer in uniform, stand near the wall.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, right, and military officials hold a news conference in Fort Campbell, Ky., on Thursday after the helicopter crash. (Sharon Johnson/The Associated Press)

The helicopters have something similar to the black boxes on passenger planes, which record the performance of aircraft in flight and are used by investigators to analyze crashes.

"We're hopeful that will provide quite a bit of information of what occurred," Lubas said.

The Black Hawk helicopter is a critical workhorse for the U.S. army and is used in security, transport, medical evacuations, search and rescue and other missions. The helicopters are known to many people from the 2001 movie Black Hawk Down, which is about a violent battle in Somalia eight years earlier.

Black Hawks were a frequent sight in the skies over Iraq and Afghanistan during wars there, conducting combat missions, and they're also used by the army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. They were also often used to ferry visiting senior leaders to headquarters in the Iraq and Afghanistan war zones.

'Fireball' seen by witness

Fort Campbell is located near the Tennessee border, about 100 kilometres northwest of Nashville, and the crash occurred in the community of Cadiz, in Trigg County, Ky.

Nick Tomaszewski, who lives about a mile from where the crash occurred, said 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.

A black military helicopter is seen flying low to the ground is a desert setting.
Crew members were flying two HH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, which crashed in Kentucky's Trigg County. Above, cavalry scouts with the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team land in a Black Hawk helicopter in Fort Carson, Colo., in March 2022, during a training exercise. (Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images)

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.

Flyovers for training exercises happen almost daily, and the helicopters typically fly low but not so close together, he said.

"There were two back to back. We typically see one and then see another one a few minutes later, and we just saw two of them flying together last night," Tomaszewski said.

U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin offered his condolences to the families of those killed.

"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," Austin said in a statement.

In the Kentucky House and in the Senate, members stood for a moment of silence on Thursday morning in honour of the crash victims. Kentucky state Rep. Walker Thomas said the crash occurred about 15 to 20 minutes from his home.

"They're there to protect us," Thomas said. "And we're constantly seeing these helicopters flying over our communities."