Shell Strikes Group of Soldiers, Killing Three, Injuring 23
FORT SILL, Okla. (AP) _ Artillery fire at a practice range overshot its target Wednesday and struck a group of about 80 soldiers standing in formation, killing three and injuring 23 others, officials said.
One or more rounds exploded outside the Fort Sill firing area about 5 p.m. and struck a nearby rifle range where the soldiers were training, said Master Sgt. Michael Brown, a base spokesman.
The unit had completed a tactical training course and was in formation and preparing to trade places with another unit when a shell hit 10 to 15 feet behind them, creating a crater a yard wide and a foot deep, said Col. John Dobbs, another base spokesman.
Fort Sill officials were trying late Wednesday to determine how many shells hit the soldiers, what type howitzer was being fired and why the artillery missed its mark.
″The error could have been made in more than one way,″ said Dobbs. The howitzer may have been aimed incorrectly or had the wrong amount of gunpowder, he said.
″We have to analyze the craters and interview all the units on the range,″ said Jon Long, a base spokesman.
Long said it appeared the impact occurred from 700 to 1,000 meters beyond the target area. He said the base, which has 21,000 soldiers and is the Army’s Field Artillery Center, has three sizes of howitzers.
The soldiers were assigned to A Battery, 2nd Battalion of the 80th Field Artillery and were a week away from completing an eight-week basic training course, said Staff Sgt. William Biel, a base spokesman. ″They were out there qualifying with their weapons,″ he said.
Military police roped off an area approximately 70 feet by 70 feet at the accident site and would not let reporters speak with any troops. Remnants of military uniforms and helmets littered the ground. Buses were used to carry uninjured soldiers back to the post.
Three of the most seriously injured underwent surgery Wednesday night, Long said.
Biel said Staff Sgt. Scott Harris was in critical condition at the base hospital. Pvts. David Saltsman and David Adams were in stable condition. He did not have their hometowns.
Long said the accident site was about four miles from the populated area of the base.
Helicopters and ambulances were used to evacuate the injured to Reynolds Army Hospital on the base, located in south central Oklahoma, officials said.
Brown said the identities of the dead soldiers were not released pending notification of relatives.
Other details were not immediately available.
The last major accident involving artillery at the post occurred in December 1978, when a shell exploded aboard an ammunition-carrying vehicle, killing one soldier and injuring four others.