WASHINGTON — Nine people were reported dead after two U.S. Army air assault helicopters crashed Wednesday night during a training exercise in Kentucky, resulting in multiple casualties according to officials
In a Facebook post, base officials from Fort Campbell said the incident happened around 10 p.m. Two HH60 Blackhawk helicopters with the 101st Airborne Division crashed during a "routine training mission," base officials said.
It's unclear how many people were in the two helicopters, and base officials initially said the status of all crew members was unknown Thursday morning.
By 9:30 a.m. Eastern, army officials told the Associated Press that nine people were killed in the crash.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday morning that "fatalities are expected" as a result of the crash. In a tweet, the governor said local officials were responding to the crash and promised more details soon.
Speaking a news conference Thursday morning, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said the state would do everything they can to support the families of those killed.
“We’re going to do what we always do, we’re going to wrap our arms around these families, we’re going to be with them for the weeks and days to come,” Beshear said.
The 101st Airborne Division, nicknamed the "Screaming Eagles," is the only air assault division of the U.S. Army.
A Facebook post from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) confirmed two aircraft from their division were involved in the incident, and confirmed several casualties in the crash.
"We can confirm two aircraft from the 101st were involved in an accident last night resulting in serval casualties," the Facebook post reads. "Right now the focus is on the Soldiers and their families who were involved."
While casualties are often associated with death, in military language the word is used to describe both deaths and injuries among soldiers.
The crash happened in Trigg County, a small county on the southwest border of Kentucky, about an hour north of Nashville. As of the 2020 census, the county had a population of just over 14,000.
CNN reports that a spokesman for the Kentucky State Police confirmed that troopers were assisting after a helicopter incident in a rural part of the county.
Nick Tomaszewski, who lives about a mile from where the crash occurred, said he saw two helicopters flying over his house moments before the crash.
“For whatever reason last night my wife and I were sitting there looking out on the back deck and I said “Wow, those two helicopters look low and they look kind of close to one another tonight,’” he said.
The helicopters flew over and looped back around and moments later “we saw what looked like a firework went off in the sky.”
“All of the lights in their helicopter went out. It was like they just poofed ... and then we saw a huge glow like a fireball,” Tomaszewski said.
Flyovers for training exercises happen almost daily and the helicopters typically fly low but not so close together, he said.
“There were two back to back. We typically see one and then see another one a few minutes later, and we just saw two of them flying together last night,” he said.
Members of the Kentucky Senate stood for a moment of silence Thursday morning in honor of the crash victims.
“We do not know the extent of what has gone on, but I understand it is bad and there has been a substantial loss of life of our military,” Senate President Robert Stivers told the somber chamber.
Last month, two Tennessee National Guard pilots were killed when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed along an Alabama highway during a training exercise.
The Black Hawk helicopter is a critical work horse for the U.S. Army, providing key security, transport, medical evacuations, search and rescue and other missions. It was a frequent sight in the skies over Iraq and Afghanistan during the wars conducting combat missions and is also used by the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. Black Hawks were also often used to ferry visiting senior leaders to headquarters locations in the Iraq and Afghanistan war zones.
The cause of the crash is still under investigation.