Personnel from several King County Washington Fire Districts carried equipment Friday to a staging area to be transported up Mount Peak near Enunclaw, Wash., for the recovery team bringing back the three people killed in a helicopter crash Thursday night. An Army Black Hawk helicopter crashed on the mountain southeast of Seattle during a training mission, killing all three people aboard, military officials said Friday.
Isle soldier is among 3 killed on copter
A night training flight goes down in Washington state
ENUMCLAW, Wash. » One of the three soldiers killed in the crash of a Black Hawk helicopter in Washington state was from Hawaii, the Army said yesterday.
Chief Warrant Officer James E. Whitehead, 33, was an aviator on board the helicopter from Fort Lewis when it crashed on the 1,835-foot Mount Peak during a scheduled night training mission Thursday.
The other soldiers were identified as Sgt. Thomas L. Clarkston Jr., 25, and Chief Warrant Officer Patrick J. Paige, 32, of Alabama.
All were members of the 4th Squadron, 6th Air Cavalry Regiment, which has been at Fort Lewis for about a year.
Clarkston, of Liberty, Ind., was the crew chief of the Black Hawk, overseeing navigation and other duties. He began service in May 2002 and was stationed at Fort Lewis in July 2005.
His survivors include his wife, Teffiny, and a 14-month-old son.
Paige was an Army aviator from Alabama. He had been on active duty since November 1995, Fort Lewis officials said.
Whitehead began active duty in August 1992. Both Paige and Whitehead arrived at Fort Lewis in August 2005, the Army said.
A team of safety investigators from the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., was called in to try to find out what went wrong.
Charles Van Hoof Jr., 42, said he heard the helicopter fly low over the area.
"It was so low that it shook the house," he said, noting that it was lower than normal military training flights through the area.
"It went over, and then about two seconds later, I heard it hitting the trees, thrashing and making a lot of noise," Van Hoof said. "And then there was an explosion and a red flash."
He called 911 and headed up the steep, snowy mountain with his wife. Armed with flashlights and blankets, they found bits of fiberglass and a strong smell of diesel fuel.
Van Hoof said the UH-60 Black Hawk had hit a large tree and crashed about 400 feet up the mountain behind his home.
"When they hit that tree, it was over," Van Hoof said Friday night. "If they had went another 20 feet higher, it would have gone over everything."
The site looked like a bomb had gone off, Van Hoof said. The Black Hawk had sheared a path off the top of the pines before dropping to the ground.
Only the copter's tailpiece was recognizable. The front of the aircraft was "totally gone, just pieces everywhere," Van Hoof said.
The couple later led King County sheriff's deputies to the crash site. Searchers found the first two bodies quickly, then discovered the third Friday morning.
The fatal Army helicopter crash was one of the first in Washington state since October 1983, when another Black Hawk burst into flames south of Mount Rainier National Park, killing all four aboard.
Fort Lewis is home to an estimated 130 Black Hawks, Chinooks, OH-58 Kiowa Warrior scout helicopters and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters.