Investigators examine Kentucky site where Black Hawk helicopters crashed as Army identifies 9 who died
Stars and Stripes March 31, 2023
WASHINGTON – Army investigators are sifting through the wreckage of two Black Hawk helicopters that crashed during a nighttime training mission this week in Kentucky and killed nine soldiers, service officials said Friday.
The investigative team from Fort Rucker, Ala., arrived at the scene of the crash near Fort Campbell, Ky., on Thursday night. Inclement weather, though, has slowed the efforts, base officials said.
The HH-60 Black Hawks belonging to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell went down in Cadiz, Ky., at about 10 p.m. Wednesday as they were flying in a multi-ship formation with night-vision goggles, the base officials said. Both aircraft crashed in an open field not far from a residential neighborhood, but no civilians were hurt.
Base officials said the helicopters were participating in a medical evacuation exercise when they crashed. Four soldiers were in one helicopter and five in the other, according to base officials. No one on either helicopter survived.
The nine soldiers who died in the crashes are:
• Warrant Officer 1 Jeffery Barnes, 33, of Milton, Fla.
• Cpl. Emilie Marie Eve Bolanos, 23, of Austin, Texas.
• Chief Warrant Officer 2 Zachary Esparza, 36, of Jackson, Mo.
• Sgt. Isaac John Gayo, 27, of Los Angeles, Calif.
• Staff Sgt. Joshua C. Gore, 25, of Morehead City, N.C.
• Warrant Officer 1 Aaron Healy, 32, of Cape Coral, Fla.
• Staff Sgt. Taylor Mitchell, 30, of Mountain Brook, Ala.
• Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rusten Smith, 32, of Rolla, Mo.
• Sgt. David Solinas Jr., 23, of Oradell, N.J.
“This is a time of great sadness for the 101st Airborne Division. The loss of these soldiers will reverberate through our formations for years to come,” Maj. Gen. JP McGee, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Fort Campbell, said Friday. “Now is the time for grieving and healing. The whole division and this community stand behind the families and friends of our fallen soldiers.”
Fort Campbell is located about 50 miles northwest of downtown Nashville on the Kentucky-Tennessee border, and Cadiz is 25 miles northwest of the border.
Military officials have not yet specified how the helicopters crashed or said whether they collided in midair. Eyewitnesses told ABC News Thursday that both helicopters were in flames and wreckage scattered in the field.
Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the top spokesman at the Pentagon, said Thursday that no decision has been made yet to halt flying Black Hawks so the fleet can be examined for mechanical problems.
“Anytime there’s the potential for a fleet of aircraft to have some type of systemic issue, then certainly those fleets can be stood down,” he said. “You've seen us do that with other types of aircraft in the past. … Certainly that’s a step that could be taken – but we need to allow time for this investigation to run its course.”
The crash Wednesday was the second involving a Black Hawk helicopter in more than a month. On Feb. 15, two veteran Tennessee Army National Guard pilots were killed when their UH-60 Black Hawk crashed during a training flight near Huntsville, Ala. That crash is still under investigation.
The Black Hawk has been in service with the Army since 1979 and is one of the military’s most popular workhorse helicopters.
There are several variants and derivatives of the Black Hawk. The UH-60 is the main version, but Sikorsky also produces the HH-60, the SH-60 Seahawk and MH-60 Jayhawk. The Seahawk is a marine utility helicopter used by the Navy, and the Jayhawk is a recovery aircraft used by the Coast Guard.
The 101st Airborne Division is based at Fort Campbell, which covers more than 105,000 acres in southern Kentucky and northern Tennessee. It’s home to a number of Army garrisons, including the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, 5th Special Forces Group, the NCO Academy and the 101st Airborne Division’s “Screaming Eagles” parachute demonstration team.