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Precede FORT SILL, Okla. Two Soldiers Killed In Georgia; Probe Begins In Oklahoma Accident

September 29, 1989

FORT STEWART, Ga. (AP) _ A mortar shell exploded and killed two Fort Stewart soldiers during a training exercise Thursday, a day after three soldiers died in Oklahoma when an artillery shell overshot its target.

The Fort Stewart soldiers were killed while firing 4.2-inch shells at the base’s mortar range, said Lt. Colonel Herbert Blanks, spokesman for the Army Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., which sent a team of investigators.

Maj. Donald Keeling, spokesman at Fort Stewart, said the mortar that exploded Thursday morning could have been faulty or one of the victims might have made an error setting the timing fuse on the device.

″At this point, we really don’t know what happened, but they were the ones handling the munitions,″ he said.

Keeling said mortar rounds can be set to explode either in the air or on impact. But it was not known yet whether the round exploded in its tube or after being detonated at the base near Savannah in southeastern Georgia.

A 4.2-inch mortar is a short-barreled cannon which can be fired from a position on the ground or from a vehicle like an open-back armored personnel carrier.

Authorities did not release the names of the victims pending notification of relatives.

At Fort Sill, Okla., Army investigators Thursday inspected a crater where a stray round hit and exploded the day before, killing three soldiers and injuring 23.

The Fort Sill soldiers, in the seventh week of an eight-week training course at the sprawling Field Artillery Center in southwest Oklahoma, were lined up to leave a training site when the artillery round hit about 5 p.m.

″We know it happened. Now we’re going to find out why it happened,″ said Brig. Gen. Lou Hennies, director of Army safety at Fort Rucker, which also sent investigators to Fort Sill.

Officials said the round from a howitzer, a type of big gun, overshot a target area by about one-half mile and fell 10 to 15 feet behind the soldiers, who were in formation.

Hennies said investigators hadn’t determined which artillery was involved in the accident. Post spokesman said 105mm, 155mm and 8-inch howitzers were being fired Wednesday.

Blanks said the two accidents were not similar.

″This was an entirely different type of accident than the one at Fort Sill. ... This was not the same type of equipment - this was an indirect firing weapon.″

Blood-spattered camouflage fatigues, helmets, boots, jackets and other military wear was strewn across about a 25-yard area at the Fort Sill accident site. The crater measured about one yard across and about a foot deep.

″They heard a whistle of incoming, a yellow blast and then they were blown off their feet,″ Col. William Gonzales, commander at Reynolds Army Hospital at Fort Sill, said some of the soldiers told him. ″It’s amazing what the power of a shell can do.″

Jon Long, another post spokesman, said the accident site was about four miles from the populated area of the post, which has 21,000 soldiers.

Master Sgt. Michael Brown said Pvt. 1 Jimmy N. McCain, 21, of Troy, Ala., and Spec. Thomas P. Boyle, 25, of Ventura, Calif., were killed. The names of the third soldier killed at Fort Sill and the two victims at Fort Stewart were withheld pending notification of relatives.

Six soldiers injured at Fort Sill underwent surgery Wednesday night, Gonzales said. Two were in critical condition, and four were serious. One soldier’s leg was amputated.

In all, 22 soldiers remained hospitalized Thursday. Fourteen of them were in stable condition and two were in good condition.

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