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Investigators Seeking Cause Of Helicopter Wrecks That Killed 8

April 11, 1986

FORT STEWART, Ga. (AP) _ Two Army helicopters that crashed, killing all eight soldiers aboard, collided while flying in opposite directions, investigators said Thursday.

The cause of the collision, however, remained unclear, said Maj. Rob Stiffler, leader of a four-man team from the Army Aviation Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., that began combing through the wreckage.

The wrecked helicopters, a CH-47-D Chinook carrying six servicemen and an AH-1S Cobra carrying two servicemen, were found Wednesday night about 2,500 feet apart, officials said.

The Cobra was headed east to refuel at Wright Army Airfield on the post and the Chinook was headed west toward an excercise area, said Lt. Col. Bill Witwicki, director of planned training and mobilization at Fort Stewart.

The Army identified seven of the eight victims as: Chief Warrant Officer Donald C. Miller Jr., 22, of Intercourse, Pa.; Chief Warrant Officer Jerry G. Akerf, 38, of Cambridge, Mass.; Chief Warrant Officer Charles P. Falk, Jr., 40, of Keene, N.H.; Warrant Officer David M. Thomas, 23, of Clifton, N.J.; Spec. 4 Christopher J. Carey, 26, of Chappaqua, N.Y.; Pfc. Matthew J. Barker, 24, of Chicago; and Sgt. Alphonso C. Ferguson, 24, of Lynchburg, Va.

The eighth victim was not identified pending notification of relatives.

The helicopters had taken off on training flights earlier Wednesday from Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, about 35 miles east of Fort Stewart, said Lt. Col. James Arnold, a Fort Stewart spokesman. The airfield houses all helicopters and planes used by Fort Stewart personnel.

Controllers at the Range Control building, located near the crash site, have radio contact with helicopters. But Capt. Thomas Nickerson, a spokesman for the south Georgia Army post, said there was no immediate indication that soldiers on either helicopter had reported problems.

The Chinook helicopter is primarily a cargo and troop carrier that can transport about 35 soldiers, Arnold said. The Cobra helicopter, which carries only two crewmen, is a missile-carrying gunship primarily used as an anti-tank weapon.

Arnold said the Army has not experienced problems with either helicopter. The Army grounded its Chinook D model helicopters last year after an accident that injured eight soldiers in Honduras, but the grounding was lifted after six weeks when the accident was blamed on human error.

Fort Stewart, the largest Army post east of the Mississippi River, covers 280,000 acres and has more than 14,000 service men and women.

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