RIVERSIDE — An Army UH-1H helicopter on a training mission crashed in a remote canyon area about 15 miles southeast of Big Bear Lake, killing three servicemen and injuring two others on board, authorities said Friday.
The helicopter was reported missing late Thursday night, but the wreckage was not found until 9 a.m. Friday at an elevation of 7,500 feet in a rugged canyon area near Yucca Valley, about 90 miles east of Los Angeles, said Deputy Harry Hatch of the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.
Hatch said the rescue of survivors ended about 1 p.m. and involved several helicopters from the Army, Air Force, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.
"We needed the helicopters because the crash occurred in a very inaccessible area on a remote desert mountain." Hatch said.
Warrant Officer Randy R. Locklear, 27, of Montgomery, Ala., who co-piloted the helicopter, was killed in the crash, along with Pfc. Donald R. Krause, 19, of Noble, Okla. The name of the other dead soldier is being withheld pending notification of relatives.
The survivors, Pfc. Thaddues J. Stewart, 20, of Pelham, Ga., a passenger, and Pfc. Daniel Ray Hauenstein, 23, of Pryor, Okla., the crew chief, were flown to March Air Force Base Hospital in Riverside. Stewart's spine was fractured, but Hauenstein suffered only minor cuts and bruises, an Army spokesman said. Both men were reported in stable condition.
A team of specialists from the Army Safety Center at Ft. Rucker, Ala., was dispatched to the crash site Friday to begin an investigation into the cause, said Capt. Patrick Healy, spokesman for the National Training Center at Ft. Irwin, about 35 miles north of Barstow.
The crew and helicopter belonged to the Army's 200th Aviation Company of the 14th Aviation Battalion based at Ft. Sill and were on a "familiarization mission" to assist in a joint military exercise to be conducted later this month throughout Southern California, Healey said.
Called Gallant Eagle, the exercise is a massive six-day test of the ability of select American units to fight a desert war on short notice. Mock combat in the test involves men and equipment from all branches of the military.
Meanwhile in Nevada, two Norwegian air force F-16 jets collided during aerial war games Thursday, and authorities said it was a miracle that no one was injured when one of the planes crashed in a tiny desert community.
The pilot of the downed $13-million jet parachuted to safety, while the second plane was able to return safely to Nellis Air Force Base.