Chief Warrant Officer 2 James A. Rogers Jr., 28; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Charles P. Nord, 30; and Sgt. Kort M. Plantenberg, 28, all died in the helicopter crash approximately 16 miles southwest of St. Cloud, Minnesota.
All three soldiers were assigned to Company C, 2-211th General Support Aviation Battalion, which is based in St. Cloud.
The troops had returned from a nine-month deployment to Kuwait in May, according to their service records. From there, they provided aerial medical evacuation in support of the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Rogers enlisted in the Minnesota National Guard on June 5, 2009, as a field artillery specialist before becoming a warrant officer in 2013.
Nord enlisted in the Minnesota National Guard on Aug. 24, 2007, as an M1 armor crewman. He became a warrant officer in 2016. Nord leaves behind his wife, Kaley, two-year-old daughter, Lydia, and a child they have been expecting.
Plantenberg enlisted in the Minnesota National Guard on March 1, 2016, as an aircraft electrician. He was a member of the Minnesota Guard biathlon team and competed in the Chief National Guard Bureau Biathlon Championships in 2018.
Plantenberg was preparing to start the state’s warrant officer program in March and then later attend flight school.
All three soldiers were born and raised in Minnesota.
The crash that took their lives occurred in a farm field in the central part of the state during a routine maintenance test flight, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said on the evening of the crash.
“As a veteran of the Minnesota Army National Guard, my heart breaks for the families, the friends and the fellow soldiers,” Walz said. “The coming days will be dark and difficult. The state of Minnesota stands ready to assist the families of our fallen heroes.”
The crash is currently under investigation by a team from the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, Alabama.
Anytime an accident results in a loss of life — either on the ground or in the air — Army Combat Readiness Center teams are dispatched to investigate, said Col. Shawn Manke, commander of the state’s Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade.
An emergency call was issued not long after the crew departed a Guard facility near St. Cloud Regional Airport at about 2 p.m. Thursday. The wreckage was found two hours later by first responders.
“Our Minnesota National Guard family is devastated by the deaths of these soldiers,” said Maj. Gen. Jon Jensen, the adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard. “Our priority right now is ensuring that our families are taken care of."
Jensen said during a press conference Saturday that he cannot yet say which pilot was flying at the time of the mishap. The investigation will determine what exactly went wrong, but officials stressed during the press conference that the flight itself was not out of the ordinary.
“It was a routine maintenance flight that is conducted almost daily,” Jensen noted.
The last catastrophic helicopter accident for the Minnesota National Guard occurred in 1993, Jensen said. During that mishap, two aircraft collided at Camp Ripley, near Little Falls, Minnesota, and five Guardsmen were killed.
All UH-60 Black Hawks belonging to the Minnesota National Guard have been grounded during the opening phase of the investigation, but are expected to begin flying again soon, according to Jensen.
Kyle Rempfer was an editor and reporter who has covered combat operations, criminal cases, foreign military assistance and training accidents. Before entering journalism, Kyle served in U.S. Air Force Special Tactics and deployed in 2014 to Paktika Province, Afghanistan, and Baghdad, Iraq.