Four soldiers killed when two choppers crash at JBLM

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by KING 5 News and the Associated Press

KING5.com

Posted on December 13, 2011 at 6:06 PM

Updated Tuesday, Dec 13 at 11:23 PM

RAINIER, Wash. -- The Army has removed the bodies of the four aviators killed in the crash of two helicopters on Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Family members identified one of those killed as Frank Buoniconti of DuPont. The father of four recently moved with his wife from Ft. Irwin in California.

The two-seat reconnaissance choppers crashed after 8 p.m. Monday in the southwest training area of the sprawling base, according to the Army.

The Army did not identify the victims, even by unit, pending notification of relatives. The crash victims' names will not be made public until 24 hours after family notification.

An Army spokesman said the remains of the four aviators killed in the crash have been removed from the crash scene and taken to Madigan Hospital on JBLM.

Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield said Tuesday that investigators from the Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., are expected on the scene by Tuesday night.

It was not immediately clear whether the aircraft collided or crashed separately. Neighbors reported seeing low-flying helicopters hours before the crash, and even hearing strange sounds around the time the crash happened.

"We don't have details on what actually occurred," base spokesman J.C. Mathews said. "That will be part of the investigation."

The OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters were on a training mission, Mathews said, further details will be part of the investigation.

The Kiowa Warrior is a single-engine, four-bladed aircraft used for armed reconnaissance, Mathews said. It's often called a scout helicopter.

The crash site is geographically closest to the civilian community of Rainier, which is south of Tacoma, Mathews said.

Early Tuesday morning, two sheriff's vehicles blocked access to a rural plot of land where officials erected large sets of lights to illuminate the crash site.

Base officials secured the crash site late Monday and immediately began an investigation. The Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., will lead the overall investigation into the accident, base spokesman Joe Piek said.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends and loved ones of the soldiers involved in this tragic accident," said Maj. Gen. Lloyd Miles, acting senior Army commander at Lewis-McChord and deputy commanding general of I Corps. "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."

In December 2006, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter from Fort Lewis crashed southeast of Seattle during a night training mission, killing all three aboard.

Joint Base Lewis-McChord is one of the largest bases in the country, with about 100,000 military and civilian personnel.
 

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