An Army helicopter carrying a brigadier general and six other soldiers crashed and burned in the fog after hitting a web of support wires on a TV transmission tower whose warning lights had been knocked out in a storm last week, officials said. Everyone aboard was killed.
The UH-60 Black Hawk, bound for the Red River Army Depot in Texarkana, went down Monday in a field about 50 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Fort Hood. The fog was so thick when emergency crews arrived that they could not see 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, spokesman for the Fort Hood-based 4th Infantry Division. The names of the victims, all from Fort Hood, were not immediately released by the military.
A military official at the home of Brig. Gen. Charles B. Allen told The Associated Press that Allen was among those killed. In his 27-year career, Allen, an assistant division commander for the 4th Infantry Division, was stationed at several US and overseas military posts and also worked at the Pentagon.
Rock Eicke, who lives 400 meters (a quarter-mile) from the crash site, said he was getting ready for work at 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 (182 to 273 meters) from the tower, said McLennan County constable Ken Brown.
Eicke and Brown said charred and smoldering pieces of the helicopter were scattered for hundreds of meters (yards). Two of the bodies were seen inside the helicopter; others were lying in the field.
An investigation team was sent to the scene to determine the cause of the crash. Withington said the team’s priority Monday night was “to secure the scene and recover the bodies.” He said other Black Hawk helicopters from Fort Hood would pick up the bodies and return them to the post.
The helicopter hit several of 21 wires stabilizing the 1,800-foot (540-meter) 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.
FAA spokesman Roland Herwig said the agency sent a notice Wednesday to a computer database checked by pilots before they fly 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 an eight-kilometer (five-mile) radius 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.
The crash is just the latest loss for Fort Hood and the 4th Infantry Division, one of the Army’s most technically advanced fighting forces.
Soldiers from Fort Hood have played a key role in the Iraq war almost from the beginning. The 4th Infantry Division rolled into Iraq with about 20,000 troops in April 2003 and lost 79 soldiers during its year of deployment.
Roughly 23,000 soldiers from Fort Hood are currently deployed in Iraq, post spokesman Dan Hassett said.