updated 12/23/2006 12:10:10 AM ET 2006-12-23T05:10:10

An Army Blackhawk helicopter crashed on a mountain southeast of Seattle during a training mission, killing all three people aboard, military officials said Friday.

The UH-60 went down about 9 p.m. Thursday, according to a statement issued by Fort Lewis, an Army post south of Tacoma.

Searchers found the first two bodies quickly, then discovered the third Friday morning in the same general area, said Lt. Col. Dan Williams. He said the remains will undergo autopsies.

The Army notified the family of Sgt. Thomas Clarkston Jr., 25, of Liberty, Ind., that he was among those killed, his father, Thomas Clarkston, told The Associated Press.

The Army would not confirm Clarkston was one of the dead and did not plan to release the names of all three until 24 hours after the families had been notified, said David Kuhns, a civilian spokesman for Fort Lewis.

Clarkston was the crew chief of the Blackhawk, overseeing navigation and other duties, his father said.

“He had been very successful in his career,” his father said. “He was well liked and well thought of by his unit and his peers.”

The soldiers were members of the 4th Squadron, 6th Air Cavalry Regiment, which has been at Fort Lewis for about a year, Kuhns said.

Investigators were trying to piece together what caused the helicopter to crash. “It will be a lengthy process, but we aren’t going to put a time limit on safety,” Williams said.

King County sheriff’s deputies reached the crash site about an hour after the helicopter went down on the south side of 1,835-foot Mount Peak near the county fairgrounds, about 30 miles east of Fort Lewis, said Deputy Rodney C. Chinnick.

The Army began using UH-60 Blackhawks in 1979 to provide air assault, medical evacuations and special operations support for combat operations. In August, a Blackhawk helicopter crashed in Iraq’s Anbar province, killing two and injuring four.


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