An Army helicopter carrying seven soldiers crashed and burned in the fog Monday after hitting a web of support wires on a television transmission tower whose warning lights had been knocked out in a storm last week, officials said. Everyone aboard was killed.
The helicopter, a UH-60 Black Hawk bound for Red River Army Depot in Texarkana, went down in a field about 30 miles northeast of Fort Hood. The fog was so thick when emergency crews arrived that they could see no more than halfway up the tower, authorities said.
The helicopter was headed to check out equipment being readied for use in Iraq, said Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, a spokesman for the Fort Hood-based 4th Infantry Division.
The dead were identified as Chief Warrant Officer 2 David H. Gardner Jr., 32, of Iowa, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Mark W. Evans Jr., 27, of Florida, the helicopter’s pilots; Brig. Gen. Charles B. Allen, 49, of Oklahoma; Col. James M. Moore, 47, of Peabody, Mass.; Capt. Todd T. Christmas, 26, of Wagon Mount, N.M.; Chief Warrant Officer 5 Douglas V. Clapp, 48, of Greensboro. N.C.; and Spc. Richard L. Brown, 29, Stonewall, La.
Allen was the 4th Infantry Division’s assistant division commander for support, while Moore was commander of the Division Support Command.
‘A big ball of fire’
Rock Eicke, who lives a quarter-mile from the crash site, said he was getting ready for work about 7 a.m. when he was startled by a loud sound. He looked out his window and saw the helicopter hit the ground.
“All of the sudden I just saw a big ball of fire erupt from the ground and then boom, an explosion,” Eicke said. “It was burning to the point that we couldn’t have done anything.”
The main part of the fuselage went down in a field about 200 to 300 yards from the tower, McLennan County Constable Ken Brown said.
Eicke and Brown said charred and smoldering pieces of the helicopter were scattered for hundreds of yards. Two of the bodies were seen inside the helicopter; others were lying in the field.
The helicopter hit at least five of 21 wires stabilizing the 1,800-foot tower, said Jerry Pursley, general manager of Waco-Temple-Killeen station KXXV, which owns the tower. The tower itself was not hit, he said.
The tower’s lights stopped working early last week after strong storms hit the area, Pursley said. He said the station notified the Federal Aviation Administration.
Roland Herwig, a spokesman for the FAA, said the agency sent a notice Wednesday to a computer database pilots checked before they flew for information on potential hazards. Hundreds of such notices are issued every week around the country, and they typically stay posted for 15 days, he said.
The crash occurred at the highest point in McLennan County, with 30 different towers within five miles of where the helicopter went down, Sheriff’s Deputy Shannon Mitchell said.
The Black Hawk, which the military began using in 1979, is the Army’s main troop transport helicopter. It can carry 15 people and usually is flown by a crew of four.
In November 2003, 17 soldiers were killed when two Black Hawk helicopters crashed in Iraq, apparently as a result of enemy fire.