Three military helicopter crashes have occurred just a few days as two Utah National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters crashed in northern Utah at a ski resort last Tuesday morning during a training mission near the Mineral Basin. Another mishap was reported in Hawaii when a Sikorsky S-61N crashed at the US Navy facility Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF), leaving four dead.
The 2 Utah National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters were said to be en route to an area where they had been approved for winter landing training according to National Guard Chief Warrant Officer 5 (CWO 5) Jared Jones during a press conference. This was reportedly a routine mountain training exercise wherein they were supposed to land a few hundred yards away from the Snowbird ski resort, a resort located in the outskirts of Salt Lake City. The two Black Hawk helicopters were said to crash southeast of the resort.
Friends Jacob Oster and New Zealander Billy Halloran, who were enjoying a ski holiday, recorded the crash while they were on the chairlift at the resort. In the video, it can be seen that the crashes were just a few feet from a group of people, but luckily, no one was hurt, including the crews of the two Blackhawks.
“It was close; it was a pretty scary event,” Shine said. “I think they were intending to be further away in the landing zone. … Just glad everyone walked away,” said witness Robbie Shine in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune. Interestingly, a skier named Noah Sikorski, who shares a similar name to the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter’s manufacturer, Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky, witnessed the two helicopters crash on an area used for snowmobile lessons.
The Utah National Guard said that these types of accidents were “quite rare” as both pilots of the Black Hawks were very experienced individuals. Furthermore, they stated that the incident was still under investigation. However, it was hypothesized that the lead Black Hawk had caused low visibility when landing due to the rotors dispersing snow all over the landing zone. When the first helicopter hit the ground, its rotor reportedly hit the second helicopter, causing both helicopters to be downed.
“As they landed, the snow kicked up, and the aircraft probably lost sight of the ground,” Jones said. “We know there were portions of the rotor blade that separated from the helicopter and struck the second helicopter,” he continued.
Just last year, three soldiers, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steven Skoda, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Christian Koch, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Prial of the New York National Guard, were killed in a crash during a routine training flight. Just a month later, in February 2021, another 3 National Guards from Idaho were killed coming home from a search-and-rescue training. Before that, in 2019, three National Guards were killed during a test flight in Minnesota.
Fatal Helicopter Crash in Hawaii
Three hours after the pair of UH-60s crashed in Utah, a Sikorsky S-61N crashed at the Pacific Missile Range Facility (PMRF) in Hawaii, which killed the pilot and the passengers aboard, bringing the total number of casualties to four. The names of the dead had not been released pending notification of their families. According to a report by CBS News, the helicopter was operated by Croman Corporation, which provides support services for the PMRF.
The Sikorsky S-61N is the civilian version of the SH-3 Sea King, a helicopter used by the US Navy from 1960 to 2006 doing search and rescue, anti-submarine warfare, and heavy lift. According to a report by the American Military News, the Croman Corporation was said to specialize in using heavy-lift helicopters for its services, namely aerial firefighting, aerial timber harvesting, cargo delivery, aerial support for HVAC, power-line, and ski-lift installations.
Before the accident, Croman Corp was flying the Sikorsky S-61N as part of a range training operation when it crashed near the facility located in Kekaha, Kauai, around 10 am Hawaii time. The cause of the crash is still unknown as the weather on that day was sunny, and the wind speed was just at 5 MPGH, which led many to think about what was behind the crash. The situation currently remains under investigation. At the time of the crash, the Sikorsky appeared to be carrying a MK-48 torpedo in a basket used to recover training torpedoes.
A witness of the crash, Chris Turner stated that the helicopter “…tweaked to the right and then immediately went straight nose-down in an accelerated speed, straight down with like one second. That was it,” said Turner in an interview with Hawaii News Now.
“We are deeply saddened and extend our condolences to all those affected,” said Sikorsky Spokesperson John Dorrian. “Safety is our top priority. We are supporting the investigative authorities. If there are any actionable findings as a result of the investigation, we will notify customers.”