By Shereen Siewert
Three Minnesota National Guard personnel reportedly were on board a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter that crashed Thursday afternoon near St. Cloud, Minnesota, according to the National Guard.
Minn. Gov. Tim Walz confirmed all three men perished in the crash.
Mr. Walz announced the deaths of the three crew members during a news conference on Thursday night near the crash site. The names of the victims are being withheld until their family members could be notified, according to the governor, who said that as a retired member of the National Guard, he was particularly affected by the news.
“As governor and as a citizen of this great state, and as a veteran of the Minnesota Army National Guard, my heart breaks for the families, the friends and the fellow soldiers,” Mr. Walz said. “The coming days will be dark and difficult. The state of Minnesota stands ready to assist the families of our fallen heroes.”
The crash site appears to be near Marty, an unincorporated town southwest of St. Cloud Regional Airport, where the helicopter departed around 1:55 p.m. before a mayday call preceded a disconnect in radio communication.
St. Cloud Regional Airport officials confirmed the helicopter lost radio contact with air traffic control at about 2 p.m. Thursday. The St. Paul Fire Department’s MART team headed to the area to help after a mayday call was released about nine minutes after the flight began.
The Guard’s base near St. Cloud Regional Airport has been in operation since 2009, with Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters maintained there.
The St. Cloud Times reported the Minnesota State Patrol was called to bring in a helicopter to help with the search. A State Patrol Cirrus aircraft, equipped with thermal imaging cameras, also was helping in the search.
Officials said the cause of the accident was under investigation and declined to elaborate on the nature of the maintenance test flight or the age of the helicopter.
A team of investigators from the Army Safety Center at Fort Rucker, in Alabama, is expected to arrive in Minnesota on Friday to conduct the crash investigation, the governor said.
“They paid the ultimate price in service to Minnesota and to the United States of America,” Mr. Walz said of the crash victims. “Words will never ease the pain of this tragic loss, and the state of Minnesota is forever in the debt of these warriors.”