Helicopter crashes kill four soldiers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord

Four Army aviators were killed Monday night when two military helicopters crashed in a training area southwest of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Thurston County, officials said.

The crash, which occurred shortly after 8 p.m., involved two OH-58 Kiowa observation helicopters.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends and loved ones of the soldiers involved in this tragic accident,” Maj. Gen. Lloyd Miles, acting senior Army commander at JBLM and deputy commanding general of I Corps, said in a written statement. “We will conduct a thorough investigation into this incident, and we will do everything in our power to support the families of the brave soldiers who died this evening.”

The circumstances of the crash remained unclear late Monday. The Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., will lead the investigation into what caused the accident.

Military officials did not immediately identify the soldiers killed in the crash or the units they were assigned to.

At the scene of the crash, Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield said he could not say whether the two helicopters crashed into each other. He said the cause of the crash will be determined by the investigation.

Debris was spread across a large area. The crash occurred on JBLM, and the crash site was blocked off by sheriff's deputies and military personnel.

Fire trucks from both JBLM and Lacey also responded to the scene. Last summer, JBLM started increasing its air assets significantly – adding 44 helicopters for a total of 143 – with the arrival of the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade headquarters. The unit features Black Hawk, Kiowa, Apache and Chinook helicopters and is split between JBLM and Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

The last accident involving local troops during a helicopter training exercise happened nearly five years ago, when three members of the 4th Squadron, 6th Air Cavalry Regiment died in a night crash near Enumclaw. Chief Warrant Officers Patrick J. Paige and James E. Whitehead and Sgt. Thomas L. Clarkston were assigned to Fort Lewis and were killed when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed on a mountainside Dec. 21, 2006.

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