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First On Scene Put Out Fires, Pull Pilot From Wreckage With AM-Helicopter Crash

February 26, 1988

CHICO, Texas (AP) _ The first people to reach the cow pasture where an Army helicopter crashed Thursday described the scene as a ″war zone″ that smelled of burning oil and flesh.

Nine soldiers died and nine were injured when the CH-47D Chinook went down northeast of Chico, officials said.

Two men who raced to the helicopter when they saw it puff smoke and descend onto a neighbor’s field said they pulled one pilot from the wreckage and doused flames on the soldiers.

Jack Souther, a 54-year-old pipeline worker, said he used a small fire extinguisher he carries in his pickup truck to put out the flames on at least six soldiers.

″I couldn’t fight any fire with it,″ Souther said. ″The only thing I could do was put the fires out on the bodies. I went from body to body trying to put them out.″

Souther said two teen-agers arrived at the crash just before he and his son-in-law, John Karch, did.

One of the teen-agers, Dale Christopher, 17, said he told one of the victims that he was lucky. ″He said ‘What do you mean?’ and I said ’Man, there’s people scattered everywhere,‴ Christopher said.

Christopher said the smell of the burning metal, oil and flesh was overwhelming. ″It was the smell of death,″ he said.

Wendell Berry, 53, who lives a half-mile from the crash and arrived just after Souther and Karch, said he cut the seat belt from a pilot who was trapped in the cockpit. ″He was conscious and talking to me,″ Berry said.

Volunteer firefighters who were dousing a grass fire west of Chico responded to the crash, said firefighter Blane Rice.

Souther said the victims were scattered in all directions from the helicopter, but that most were caught in a fire in front of the wreckage.

″It was a war zone. Bodies were scattered everywhere. There was just a couple of bodies out of the fire area,″ Souther said.

He said that after they doused the fires on the victims, they made them lie where they were until firefighters and medical personnel arrived.

″I know it was probably hot laying there. But I think it was better that they stayed still,″ Souther said.

Berry said he saw the crash but his view was partially blocked by trees. ″He slid about 75 yards before he blew up,″ he said. ″Between my eyesight and the copter was a tree.″

Souther said he and Karch could tell by the way the craft was flying that it would crash. ″You could see it puffing smoke. I told my son-in-law, ’Let’s go. That thing is going down,‴ Souther said.

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