Military Chopper Crashes

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A Black Hawk helicopter carrying 13 people crashed Tuesday in a heavily wooded area of a sprawling Army post in upstate New York, military officials said. The Army said there were two survivors but did not immediately disclose the number of dead.

Maj. Gen. Franklin Hagenbeck, commander of the 10th Mountain Division, refused to take questions at a news briefing but indicated there were fatalities.

"I would like to extend my condolences to the families of our fallen comrades and I want to assure you that we will fully investigate this terrible accident and do everything in our power to take care of all the families involved in this tragedy," Hagenback said.

Investigators and search crews were expected to remain in the field through the night, Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty said. He said none of the casualties were reservists.

The helicopter, a widely used transport aircraft, crashed just north of Wheeler-Sack Airfield, Hilferty said. He said there was no indication of problems beforehand.

"The first call I got was that it was missing. It just disappeared," Hilferty said.

He said he believed the aircraft was on a training mission with at least one other helicopter, perhaps two.

Maj. Daniel Bohr at Fort Drum said the aircraft last made radio contact shortly before 2 p.m. Rescue crew located the crash site at about 3:30 p.m.

Greg Burnelle, a Jefferson County emergency management official, said the helicopter went down between the tiny towns of Antwerp and Philadelphia. He said there were "critical injured people."

The National Weather Service reported winds of 22 mph with gusts up to 30 mph at Wheeler-Sack field around 2 p.m. Steve Burton, a pilot with the air taxi service Adirondack Helicopters Inc. in Remsen, 60 miles south of the post, said there was nothing troubling about Tuesday's weather.

"Visibility is good," Burnelle said. "There's some wind but nothing we're not used to coping with this time of year."

Fort Drum, near the eastern shore of Lake Ontario about 70 miles northeast of Syracuse, is home to the 10th Mountain Division and has been a major staging area for reserve units taking part in the build-up toward war with Iraq. Nearly 1,000 division soldiers and reservists have left from Fort Drum in recent weeks.

"My heart goes out to their loved ones," said Sgt. Paul Merritt, of Easton, Pa., as he stood pumping gas at a station off the post. "A soldier realizes they are risking their life any time they put a uniform on. We train for combat. Combat is dangerous. Training is dangerous."

Resident Hazel Seery said she was driving home from work Tuesday afternoon and saw two Army helicopters, presumably searching for the downed craft.

"I knew something was up with all the commotion outside," Seery said.

The training mission had no connection with ongoing war exercises at the base, Hilferty said.

Black Hawk UH-60 helicopters are equipped with advanced avionics and electronics, such as the global positioning systems.

Last month, a Black Hawk crashed during night training in the Kuwaiti desert, killing all four crewmembers. The Kuwaiti military said sandstorms were reported in the area at the time the chopper went down.

On Jan. 30, an MH-60, an adapted version of the Black Hawk, crashed during training near Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, killing four members of an elite aviation regiment.