The nine Army soldiers killed Wednesday when two Black Hawk helicopters collided in the air during late-night training exercises ranged in age from 23 to 36, the service announced Friday.
All nine were members of the 101st Airborne Division and were training at Fort Campbell in Kentucky during the tragic crash.
“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,” said Maj. Gen. JP McGee, commanding general of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) and Fort Campbell.
The Army identified the soldiers as: Warrant Officer 1 Jeffery Barnes, 33, of Milton, Florida; Cpl. Emilie Marie Eve Bolanos, 23, of Austin, Texas; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Zachary Esparza, 36, of Jackson, Missouri; Sgt. Isaacjohn Gayo, 27, of Los Angeles.; Staff Sgt. Joshua C. Gore, 25, of Morehead City, North Carolina; Warrant Officer 1 Aaron Healy, 32, of Cape Coral, Florida; Staff Sgt. Taylor Mitchell, 30, of Mountain Brook, Alabama; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Rusten Smith, 32, of Rolla, Missouri; and Sgt. David Solinas Jr., 23, of Oradell, New Jersey.
The four soldiers piloting the two Black Hawks were Esparza, Smith, Barnes and Healy, according to the Army.
All of the deceased were remembered fondly in heartbreaking tributes across the country Friday.
Smith was remembered by a middle school teacher as a driven and ambitious person.
“What a great kid. What a tragedy,” Busby said by phone from his home in St. James, Missouri, the small town where Smith grew up. “I’ll be honest I wept — what a shame.”
Solinas — one of the two youngest killed in the crash — was a dedicated flight medic, his brother Adrian said in a statement.
“We are a faithful family, and we are proud David was training to rescue soldiers on the battlefield,” he said. “Being a flight medic is one of the most difficult jobs that you can do, and illustrates that David was a man of compassion and faith.
North Carolina Pastor Time Gore posted on Facebook that his “precious son” Gore leaves behind a pregnant wife.
“My son and his precious wife were expecting and it is a boy,” the pastor revealed of daughter-in-law Hailey Gore and the child she is expecting “in about 6 months.”
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear ordered flags at state buildings lowered to half-staff from sunrise on Saturday until sunset Monday in honor of the nine victims.
The soldiers — five on one of the choppers and four on the other — were conducting a “planned training exercise” that involved using night-vision goggles when they plummeted to the ground.
The accident occurred during flying and not during the course of a medical evacuation drill, said Brig. Gen. John Lubas, the 101st Airborne deputy commander.
One witness noted that the aircraft was flying “pretty low” over local homes when they collided.
Photos from the scene showed a huge ball of flames as rescuers rushed to the wrecked HH-60 Blackhawk helicopters.
All nine on board were pronounced dead at the scene. No civilians were injured in the crash.
It was not clear why the helicopters collided given clear visibility and low wind, and neither pilot made any distress calls.
An Army aviation safety team from Fort Rucker, Alabama, was on the scene Friday to investigate the deadly crash.
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