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Helicopter Crash Kills 5 Members of Special Forces Unit

March 9, 1996

OLMSTEAD, Ky. (AP) _ Only scrap amounts of wreckage and a crater were visible where an Army transport helicopter flown by an elite Special Forces unit crashed in a windy snowstorm, killing all five crew members.

The large olive-drab helicopter swept low over a family barn Thursday night and crashed into a southwestern Kentucky wheat field, exploding in a huge fireball about one mile away, Vicki Miller Caswell said.

Vicki Miller Caswell, whose family lives directly in the flight path for helicopters training out of Fort Campbell, said she could tell the helicopter was having engine trouble.

``We hear the choppers every night, and this one was having difficulties,″ said Caswell, who rushed out in her pajamas but found no survivors. ``The engine pitch was wrong.″

The names of the dead still have not been released because their families have not been notified. Their remains were still in the debris Friday.

Maj. Joe Howell, Fort Campbell spokesman, said investigators wanted the wreckage untouched until after they studied the crumpled remains of the fuselage. That was expected to take days.

All five victims were members of the 160th Special Operations Air Regiment, said Lt. Col. Ken McGraw, public affairs officer for the Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C.

The 160th is a Special Forces unit dubbed the ``Night Stalkers″ because they often fly in darkness using night-vision equipment. Special Forces has its headquarters at Fort Bragg, but some of its members train at Fort Campbell, about 25 miles from this small farming community near the Tennessee line.

The helicopter, identified as an MH-47E Chinook, is designed to carry soldiers far behind enemy lines during secret missions, at low altitudes and in poor weather, McGraw said.

Tammi Harvey, Caswell’s 25-year-old daughter, said she was warming up her car in the bitter cold when she first heard the helicopter approaching. She watched the pilot try to land in a nearby field, but apparently aborted the attempt before cresting a nearby rise.

``He hovered over the field out here for about half a minute,″ she said . ``It looked like he was trying to set it down, but the wind was so strong. For some reason, he picked it back up some and went over the hill.″

Moments later, they heard the explosion and saw a huge fireball.

Boeing spokeswoman Madelyn Bush said the crash was the first ever involving an MH-47E. Only 26 of the helicopters were built by Boeing Defense & Space Group Helicopters Division in Philadelphia.

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