November 29, 2004

Copter With 7 Soldiers Crashes in Texas

BRUCEVILLE-EDDY, Texas - A Black Hawk helicopter carrying seven soldiers from Fort Hood crashed Monday in central Texas after hitting a television broadcast tower guy wire, authorities said. Witnesses said they saw four bodies.

The UH-60 Black Hawk, bound for Texarkana, went down in a field about 30 miles northeast of Fort Hood in foggy conditions near Interstate 35, said Dan Hassett, a base spokesman.

Rock Eicke, who lives about 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 metallic rattling sound. He said he looked out his window and saw the helicopter hitting the ground.

"All of the sudden I just saw a big ball of fire erupt from the ground and then boom, an explosion," Eicke told The Associated Press.

Eicke called 911 and then accompanied a deputy who needed directions to the crash site. Eicke said he saw four dead soldiers - two outside the helicopter and two inside the burning wreckage.

"It was burning to the point that we couldn't have done anything," Eicke said. "These two people that were laying there, there wasn't any question that they were alive. They were dead."

There was no immediate confirmation of fatalities.

Ken Brown, a constable in McClennan County, said he and emergency crews could see the burning wreckage as they approached the scene, but it had burned out by the time they arrived.

Among the scattered debris, Brown said he saw four bodies. He said paramedics told him they were looking for seven.

"I didn't see any survivors. I don't see how," he said.

The main part of the fuselage went down in a field about 200 to 300 yards from the tower, Brown said. He said he saw the tail section, parts of the rotor and other helicopter parts between the tower and the field.

Hassett did not know what kind of mission the helicopter was on when it crashed, but said the soldiers were attached to the 4th Infantry Division. Fort Hood officials and an accident investigation team from Fort Rucker, Ala., was heading to the scene just south of Waco.

The helicopter hit a guy wire that stabilizes a 1,800-foot television broadcasting tower, said Jerry Pursley, general manager of Waco-Temple-Killeen television station KXXV, which owns the tower. The tower itself was not hit, he said.

The Black Hawk, which the military began using in 1979, is the Army's main troop transport helicopter, carrying soldiers and contractors from one U.S. base to another. A crew of four usually flies the Black Hawk, which can carry 15 people.

In November 2003, 17 soldiers were killed when two Black Hawk helicopters crashed in Iraq, apparently as the result of enemy fire. At the time it was the deadliest single event for U.S. troops in Iraq.