By Shereen Siewert
The Minnesota National Guard has identified the three soldiers killed in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crash on Thursday as James A. Rogers Jr., 28; Charles P. Nord, 30; and Kort M. Plantenberg, 28.
All three men died in the helicopter crash approximately 16 miles southwest of St. Cloud, Minnesota. The soldiers were assigned to Company C, 2-211th General Support Aviation Battalion, which is based in St. Cloud.
The troops had returned from a nine-month deployment to Kuwait in May, according to an Army Times report. From there, they provided aerial medical evacuation in support of the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
All three soldiers were born and raised in Minnesota.
The crash that took their lives occurred in a farm field in the central part of the state during a routine maintenance test flight, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said on the evening of the crash.
“As a veteran of the Minnesota Army National Guard, my heart breaks for the families, the friends and the fellow soldiers,” Walz said, during a Thursday news conference. “The coming days will be dark and difficult. The state of Minnesota stands ready to assist the families of our fallen heroes.”
An emergency call was issued not long after the crew departed a Guard facility near St. Cloud Regional Airport at about 2 p.m. Thursday. The wreckage was found two hours later by first responders.
During a news conference Saturday, Maj. Gen. Jon Jensen, the adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard, said his priority now is ensuring that the fallen soldiers’ families are cared for.
Investigators did not say which pilot was flying at the time of the crash. An investigation is underway.
“It was a routine maintenance flight that is conducted almost daily,” Jensen noted.
The last catastrophic helicopter accident for the Minnesota National Guard occurred in 1993, Jensen said. During that mishap, two aircraft collided at Camp Ripley, near Little Falls, Minnesota, and five Guardsmen were killed.
All UH-60 Black Hawks belonging to the Minnesota National Guard have been grounded during the opening phase of the investigation, but are expected to begin flying again soon, according to Jensen.