Fort Drum mourns crash victims
FORT DRUM, New York (CNN) -- The Army's Black Hawk helicopters were still flying training missions Wednesday, a day after a crash killed 11 of 13 10th Mountain Division soldiers aboard one of the choppers.
"Our hearts are heavy today as we grieve with the families of our fallen comrades," said Maj. Gen. Frank Hagenbeck, commander of the division, based at Fort Drum. "Today our focus is on caring for our wounded warriors and the family members of all those involved."
Hagenbeck said he visited the two crash survivors, both veterans of the campaign in Afghanistan, and said Spec. Dmitri Petrov and Spec. Edwin A. Mejia were "grateful that they're alive.
"But they're traumatized and heartbroken by the loss of their brothers."
Both men suffered from multiple cuts and broken bones, but Hagenbeck said Petrov was the more seriously injured of the two.
"The doctors are cautiously optimistic that he'll have a full recovery," the major general said.
The two survivors are being treated at Samaritan Medical Center in nearby Watertown.
Hagenbeck said the Army is conducting a thorough investigation of the accident, which happened as three U.S. Army UH-60 Black Hawks were returning to base.
"This was the trail helicopter in a serial of three," Hagenbeck said. "No one onboard the first two helicopters was aware of the accident."
Col. Robert Caslen of the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division said the UH-60 Black Hawk had completed a sling-load operation in which the aircraft transports large gear such as a Humvee.
The Black Hawk disappeared from radar at about 1:50 p.m. EST Tuesday, and a search-and-rescue team found the wreckage in a snowy wooded area more than 1 1/2 hours later. One survivor was walking around the crash site when emergency teams arrived, said division spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty.
Hilferty said the Army's criminal investigation and safety commands were investigating the accident but added that the presence of criminal investigators did not indicate foul play.
"The criminal investigation command is involved in any death," he said at a news conference. "If you slip and fall outside, they would be involved."
Fort Drum, about 70 miles north of Syracuse, has been a major staging ground for troops preparing for possible war on Iraq. About 1,000 soldiers from Fort Drum have been deployed to the Persian Gulf.
The military has had other helicopter crashes in recent months.
Last month, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crash in the Kuwaiti desert killed four American soldiers during a nighttime training mission near Camp New Jersey, about 31 miles northwest of Kuwait City.
On January 30, an Army MH-60 Black Hawk crashed about 7 miles from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, killing all four crew members aboard.