The crew was conducting a routine training flight, though the weather that night was poor due to snowfall and fog, according to Guard officials. The crash marks the second time in less than a month that a three-man National Guard crew has been lost to a Black Hawk mishap.
The Idaho Army National Guard’s state aviation officer, Col. Christopher Burt, said the aircraft took off at about 6 p.m. and made its last contact at 7:45 p.m. The crew had finished training and was supposed to be returning to Boise. No mayday calls were made.
About 20 minutes later, an emergency transmitter aboard the aircraft was activated, Burt said. The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, in Florida, received the signal from the transmitter and alerted the Idaho Guard, initiating recovery procedures, he added.
Air and ground search teams were then dispatched. The downed aircraft and the deceased personnel were located just after midnight Wednesday.
The cause of the accident is unknown but an Army Safety Investigation team from Fort Rucker, Alabama, is expected to be in Boise by Thursday afternoon.
“This is a tremendous loss to the Idaho National Guard and our community,” Idaho Guard commander Maj. Gen. Michael Garshak said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones as we work through this tragedy.”
The terrain that the Black Hawk crew was flying in is mountainous and snow-capped, “but it is terrain we train in routinely,” said Lt. Col. Nicole Washington, an Army aviation officer with the Idaho Guard.
Bad weather, including low cloud ceilings, snowfall and poor illumination, impeded the search for the wreckage, Washington said. Even with their night vision goggles, illumination was “pretty low,” she added.
The names of the deceased pilots are being withheld until after their next of kin have been notified, but Washington said two were instructor pilots and the most junior crew member still had more than five years of flight experience.
The losses in Idaho are not the first suffered by a National Guard aviation unit this year.
In January, a Black Hawk belonging to the New York National Guard crashed in a farmer’s field south of Rochester, killing three experienced pilots with past deployments to Afghanistan.
That mishap also remains under investigation by another Army Safety Investigation team. Mishap investigations can take months to finalize their findings and even longer before they’re made public.
Kyle Rempfer is 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. Follow on Twitter @Kyle_Rempfer