Kentucky helicopter crash: nine killed after Army Black Hawks collide

March 30 (Reuters) - Nine soldiers were killed in a crash of two medical evacuation Black Hawk helicopters during a routine nighttime training mission over Kentucky, the U.S. Army said on Thursday, in one of the military's deadliest training accidents in recent years.

Crew members using night-vision goggles were flying two HH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, operated by the Army's 101st Airborne Division, when the aircraft crashed in a field late on Wednesday over Kentucky's Trigg County.

Army Brigadier General John Lubas, the division's deputy commanding officer for operations, said little was known so far about why the helicopters came down and he acknowledged he was not even sure whether they crashed into each other.

Lubas said an aircraft safety investigations team from Fort Rucker in Alabama would arrive later on Thursday to review data from onboard computers, which he said were similar to the black boxes in commercial aircraft.

"At this point, we don't know. We're hopeful that when we get the team from Fort Rucker here and they're able to pull some of the data out of the onboard computers we will have a better understanding of exactly what happened," Lubas told reporters outside the base.

Lubas added that one helicopter had five soldiers aboard while the other had four, and they were using night-vision goggles.

The HH-60 is a variant of the Black Hawk helicopter designed to provide support for various military operations, including air assaults and medical evacuations, according to the Army.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he was working with the Army to make sure the families receive the care they need.

"My heart goes out to the families of these servicemembers and to the members of the 101st Airborne Division who bravely and proudly serve our country each and every day," Austin said in a statement.

Army Secretary Christine Wormuth addressed a Senate committee, where lawmakers expressed their condolences, and said it was tough moment for the U.S. military's biggest service branch.

"Thank you for your comments and thoughts and prayers for the families of our soldiers who were killed in the crash. Our hearts go out to them," Wormuth told the Senate Armed Services Committee. "It's a heavy day for the Army."

The weather in Fort Campbell area, which straddles the border between Kentucky and Tennessee, featured clear skies and calm winds on Wednesday night, according to National Weather Service forecaster Marc Chenard.

Fort Campbell, home to the 101st Airborne Division, is one of the largest military bases in the United States. Two U.S. soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash during training at Fort Campbell in 2018.

Reporting by Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart in Washington, Brendan O'Brien and Akriti Sharma and Juby Babu in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Will Dunham, Bernadette Baum and Marguerita Choy

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

National security correspondent focusing on the Pentagon in Washington D.C. Reports on U.S. military activity and operations throughout the world and the impact that they have. Has reported from over two dozen countries to include Iraq, Afghanistan, and much of the Middle East, Asia and Europe. From Karachi, Pakistan.

Thomson Reuters

Phil Stewart has reported from more than 60 countries, including Afghanistan, Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, China and South Sudan. An award-winning Washington-based national security reporter, Phil has appeared on NPR, PBS NewsHour, Fox News and other programs and moderated national security events, including at the Reagan National Defense Forum and the German Marshall Fund. He is a recipient of the Edwin M. Hood Award for Diplomatic Correspondence and the Joe Galloway Award.