Sunday, January 18, 2009

A United States Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed Monday (before 3:00 pm CST) after takeoff at Duncan Field at Campus of Texas A&M University, during a routine mission flight shuttling cadets from the university to Camp Swift. Two active-duty soldiers were killed in the crash, and four Army National Guard soldiers were injured.

Second Lt. Zachary Cook, 22, a native of Lufkin, Texas and a December 2008 graduate of Texas A&M University, was killed in the incident. Cook was a member of the Reserve Officers Training Corps cadre at Texas A&M University and also graduated from Lufkin High School. U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards on Wednesday paid tribute to Cook on the floor of the U.S. Congress. “His loss brings a great sadness to his family and friends, the extended Texas A&M family, and the Army, all of us deprived of this patriotic citizen who was dedicated to serving our great nation in uniform,” he said. Edwards is a Democratic Party member of the United States House of Representatives from the 17th District of Texas, based about Waco.

The crash also killed Sgt. Charles C. Mitts, 42, of Spring, Texas. He died about 9 p.m. Wednesday night at Memorial Hermann Hospital, said hospital spokeswoman Ann Brimberry. Mitts was the oldest of five men on board the ill-fated helicopter. He was assigned to Iraq from September 2006 to September 2007 with Company C of the 1st Battalion, 108th Aviation Regiment, based in Topeka, Kansas. Mitts was posthumously promoted from his present rank, Chief Master Sgt. Gonda Moncada announced.

The three others on board the UH-60 Black Hawk were injured in the accident. The pilot, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Matthew J. Smith, 41, of Leander, and 1st Lt. Ellis W. Taylor, 31, of Buda, were in stable condition Thursday at Brooke Army Medical Center. Sgt. Richard D. Ravenscraft, 24, of Austin, also was initially listed as critical but upgraded to stable in College Station.

The accident is under investigation by the Combat Readiness/Safety Center in Fort Rucker, Alabama, home of the U.S. Army Aviation Center. “They have a reputation for extreme thoroughness and quickness,” said Texas Guard Capt. Adam Collett. The probe team will review the wrecked helicopter and debris scattered on Duncan Field next to Duncan Dining Hall, near the Corps of Cadets field on the school’s College Station campus, about 100 miles northwest of Houston, Texas. “Every piece the way it landed is still in place,” said Texas Army National Guard Chief Master Sgt. Gonda Moncada, adding that investigators began the expert examination of evidence Wednesday morning.

As part of a five-ship training exercise, the Blackhawk helicopter was performing a training demonstration for about 190 Corps of Cadets in the ROTC Rudder’s Rangers Annual Winter Field Training Exercises. It was also used to transfer the students to Duncan Field just off George Bush Drive. When the helicopter was attempting to take off, a rudder reportedly malfunctioned. “At first, it looked like he was hot-dogging and then very quickly it was obvious he was in trouble and not messing around. All of a sudden he dropped straight back down into the ground,” Scott Walker Walker, publications manager for the A&M Association of Former Students said. “There was a bunch of people on Duncan Field and everyone went running and diving for cover,” he added. The aircraft entered a rotational spin upon take off and plummeted down on its tail boom, with its cabin section largely intact.

The chopper will be transferred to the Austin Aviation Support Facility, where it is was based. Some parts of the Blackhawk will also be sent to the Corpus Christi Army Depot for testing, Officials with Texas Military Forces officials said.

“Our thoughts and prayers go to the crew members involved in this tragedy, and especially to the family and friends of the crew member who reportedly died as a result of injuries sustained in the crash,” A&M President Elsa Murano stated.

The UH-60 Black Hawk is a four-bladed, twin-engine, medium-lift utility helicopter manufactured by Sikorsky Aircraft. It is a utility tactical transport helicopter that replaces the UH-1 “Huey” and has been in use since 1979.It was based at the Austin Army Aviation Support Facility at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The aircraft’s soldiers came from Austin and San Antonio. They were part of the 36th Combat Aviation Brigade, at Austin’s Camp Mabry.

The Campus of Texas A&M University, also known as ‘Aggieland’, is located in College Station, Texas, USA. College Station is a city in Brazos County, Texas, situated in Central Texas. It is located in the heart of the Brazos Valley. Aggieland is centrally located within of three of the 10 largest cities in the United States and 75% of the Texas and Louisiana populations. Southside of the campus contains halls both for the Corps of Cadets members and “non-regs”. Facilities for the Corps of Cadets are located in the Quadrangle, or “The Quad”, an area consisting of dormitories, Duncan Dining Hall, and the Corps training fields.

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