By Haley Britzky, CNN
The US Army has identified the nine soldiers who were killed in a nighttime training accident on Wednesday evening, when two HH-60 Black Hawk helicopters crashed in a field near Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
An Army news release identified the soldiers with the 101st Airborne Division who were killed in the incident as Warrant Officer 1 Jeffrey Barnes, 33; Cpl. Emilie Marie Eve Bolanos, 23; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Zachary Esparza, 36; Sgt. Isaacjohn Gayo, 27; Staff Sgt. Joshua Gore, 25; Warrant Officer 1 Aaron Healy, 32; Staff Sgt. Taylor Mitchell, 30; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rusten Smith, 32; and Sgt. David Solinas Jr., 23.
“This is a time of great sadness for the 101st Airborne Division. The loss of these Soldiers will reverberate through our formations for years to come,” Maj. Gen. JP McGee, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), said in a statement on Friday. “Now is the time for grieving and healing. The whole division and this community stand behind the families and friends of our fallen Soldiers.”
The medical evacuation helicopters were conducting a routine training mission when they crashed at approximately 10:00 pm local time in an open field across from a residential area. All nine of the service members aboard the two aircraft were killed in the accident.
Lt. Col. Anthony Hoefler, a spokesman for the 101st Airborne Division, told CNN that earlier reports that a total of four helicopters were taking part in the training exercise were incorrect.
He said in a statement Saturday that “there were only two aircraft involved in the training flight at the time of the accident. There were other aircraft in the airspace conducting different training flights at the time of the accident, which is why multiple aircraft were able to respond quickly to the accident site.”
It’s still unclear what caused the crash; a team from Fort Rucker, Alabama, is currently on-site and investigating the incident, the Army said Friday.
The nine soldiers who were killed came from all different backgrounds. Barnes, an aeromedical evacuation pilot, enlisted in the Army from Florida in 2010, going on to deploy to Afghanistan with the 3rd Combat Aviation Brigade, according to service records provided by the Army. Bolanos, a UH-60 helicopter repairer and air crew member born in the Philippines, enlisted out of Texas in 2019 and in 2020 served for nine months in Germany as part of Atlantic Resolve. A native Texan, Esparza enlisted out of Missouri in 2010 and had served as an instructor pilot for the brigade since October 2021.
Gayo, also born in the Philippines, joined the Army in 2019 out of California. Gore joined the Army in 2015, and had served as a flight paramedic for the brigade since May 2022. Healy had been serving as an Aeromedical Evacuation Pilot for the brigade since 2022, after having joined the Army in 2010. Mitchell enlisted in 2014, and was also serving as a flight paramedic for the brigade.
Smith, from Florida, joined the Army in 2012; he served as an instructor pilot in the brigade and had deployed to Afghanistan twice, in addition to a nine-month rotation in Germany in support of Atlantic Resolve. Solinas, a flight paramedic, joined the service in 2018.
Wednesday’s accident was the deadliest aviation training incident since 2015 when 11 service members were killed when a Black Hawk crashed off the coast of Florida.
CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to clarify the number of Black Hawk helicopters involved in the fatal training exercise in Kentucky based on a Saturday statement from the 101st Airborne Division.
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