Nine US service members were killed after two helicopters with the 101st Airborne Division crashed late Wednesday in southwestern Kentucky, officials said. There were no survivors.
The two HH-60 Black Hawk helicopters crashed around 10 p.m. in Trigg County near the Tennessee border, officials at nearby Fort Campbell said early Thursday. They were taking part "in a routine training mission when the incident occurred," the base said in a statement on Facebook.
The helicopters were medical evacuation aircraft, and it's believed the crash happened while they were flying and not during a medical evacuation drill, Brig. Gen. John Lubas, deputy commander of the 101st Airborne Division, said during a Thursday morning news conference at Fort Campbell.
The aircraft went down in an open field across from a residential area, so no additional casualties or injuries were reported, he said.
Lt. Col. Anthony Hoefler, a spokesman for the 101st Airborne Division, told CNN that earlier reports that a total of four helicopters were taking part in the training exercise were incorrect.
He said in a statement Saturday that "there were only two aircraft involved in the training flight at the time of the accident. There were other aircraft in the airspace conducting different training flights at the time of the accident, which is why multiple aircraft were able to respond quickly to the accident site."
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement Thursday that he was "saddened by this tragic loss" and was working with the Army to "make sure our troops and their families receive the care that they need in the wake of this accident."
"My heart goes out to the families of these servicemembers and to the members of the 101st Airborne Division who bravely and proudly serve our country each and every day," he said.
'A heavy day for the Army'
The names of the deceased will not be released until all their families have been notified, Lubas said.
"We're going to do what we always do," Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said during the news conference, acknowledging the fallen soldiers' families. "We're going to wrap our arms around these families, and we're going to be there with them, not just for the days but the weeks and months and years to come."
A military investigative team from Fort Rucker in Alabama will travel to the crash site and look into the cause, Lubas said. An Army official told CNN they are expected to arrive Thursday afternoon.
The HH-60 Black Hawk is the medical evacuation variant of the helicopter, which can transport a fully equipped 11-person infantry squad. One aircraft had five and the other had four people aboard, which Lubas said is typical and includes the pilot, co-pilot, crew chief and "medics or other personnel."
Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said Thursday that it was "a heavy day for the Army."
"Thank you for your comments and thoughts and prayers for the families of our soldiers who were killed in the crash," Wormuth told lawmakers during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. "Our hearts go out to them."
"I am devastated to learn about the Army helicopter accident over Kentucky involving our brave 101st Airborne," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in a statement on Twitter. "My team is in contact with the Army and authorities on the ground. Please pray for our service members and their families as we learn more."
The crash comes less than two months after two Tennessee National Guardsmen were killed when their UH-60 Black Hawk crashed during a training flight in Alabama.
Overall, the Army has averaged five deaths per year in on-duty aviation accidents since fiscal year 2018, according to the US Army Combat Readiness Center.
It's the most serious helicopter training incident since 11 service members were killed when a Black Hawk crashed off the coast during a training mission that took off from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to clarify the number of Black Hawk helicopters involved in the fatal training exercise in Kentucky based on a Saturday statement from the 101st Airborne Division.
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