TACOMA, Wash. -- Four Army aviators were killed Monday night when two military helicopters crashed in a training area southwest of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Thurston County, Wash., officials said.
The crash, which occurred shortly after 8 p.m. PST, involved two OH-58 Kiowa observation helicopters.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends and loved ones of the soldiers involved in this tragic accident," Maj. Gen. Lloyd Miles, acting senior Army commander at JBLM and deputy commanding general of I Corps, said in a written statement. "We will conduct a thorough investigation into this incident, and we will do everything in our power to support the families of the brave soldiers who died this evening."
The bodies of four Army aviators who were killed in a helicopter crash Monday night have been removed from the accident scene and escorted to Madigan Army Medical Center, Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield said Tuesday morning.
Soldiers and law enforcement officers are securing the crash site while the Army awaits the arrival of investigation team from Fort Rucker, Ala. The investigators likely will arrive Tuesday night and begin their work Wednesday morning.
Dangerfield said their investigation could take months to complete.
"It doesn't happen overnight," he said.
Military officials did not immediately identify the soldiers killed in the crash or the units they were assigned to.
U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, a Tacoma Democrat and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, expressed his sympathies in a statement this morning.
"Our servicemen and women take significant risks while training and serving abroad. I will work with officials to investigate what happened during this training mission, and to determine ways we can prevent this type of tragedy from occurring again."
At the scene of the crash on Monday night, Dangerfield said he could not say whether the two helicopters crashed into each other. He said the cause of the crash will be determined by the investigation.
Debris was spread across a large area. The crash occurred on JBLM, and the crash site was blocked off by sheriff's deputies and military personnel.
Firetrucks from both JBLM and Lacey also responded to the scene.
Last summer, JBLM started increasing its air assets significantly -- adding 44 helicopters for a total of 143 -- with the arrival of the 16th Combat Aviation Brigade headquarters. The unit features Black Hawk, Kiowa, Apache and Chinook helicopters and is split between JBLM and Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
(Staff writers Christian Hill and Matt Misterek contributed to this report.)
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