CHICO, Tex. — An Army helicopter caught fire and crashed in a pasture Thursday, killing nine soldiers and seriously burning nine, authorities said.
Two soldiers fell 35 feet after leaping from the burning twin-rotor CH-47D Chinook as it hurtled toward the ground about 50 miles from Ft. Worth, state Public Safety Department Sgt. Robert Rankin said. One of the soldiers died.
The other soldier said that a fire had broken out at the back of the helicopter, which was based at Ft. Sill, Okla., and that the people aboard had tried to move to the front to get away from the flames, according to Rankin.
"We do have some witnesses who said they saw parts falling off back toward Chico (several miles away), and some of the witnesses said it was on fire before impact," he said.
Nine soldiers were killed and nine injured, said Ft. Hood spokesman Lt. Col. Michael Miller. Eighteen people were aboard, said Rick Brink, a Ft. Sill spokesman. The injured were listed in serious and critical condition.
Seven soldiers died at the scene of the afternoon crash, which sparked a grass fire, said Lt. Brad Schuldt of Carswell Air Force Base. Another soldier died at Parkland Memorial Hospital and the ninth soldier died at Bridgeport Hospital, authorities said.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known. A team of investigators from Ft. Rucker, Ala., was en route to the site, Col. Herbert Blanks said.
Wendell Berry, a farmer, said he saw the copter skid about 75 yards Thursday before breaking apart in flames. He said he tried to fight the flames with a fire extinguisher.
"We put a lot of fire (on people) out," Berry said. "We couldn't do very much but get 'em out of the way. We actually could do very little. Nobody could really do anything."
Winford McDaniel, supervisor of a rock-crushing business two miles from the crash site, said a large part fell from the copter and landed near the plant.
"It looks like an exhaust pipe," he said. "It's a round piece about three feet long and three feet across."
In 1985, the Army grounded its entire fleet of 63 of the giant CH-47D helicopters after an accident in Honduras injured eight soldiers. The order was lifted after a month and a half.