ST. CLOUD, Minnesota -- Representatives from the Army Aviation Center in Fort Rucker, Alabama, were expected to arrive Friday to lead the investigation into the crash of a Minnesota National Guard helicopter Thursday afternoon south of St. Cloud.
All three crew members aboard died in the crash.
The Minnesota National Guard will release the names of the crew members on Saturday, after a 24-hour waiting period after notifying their families, according to Master Sgt. Blair Heusden.
The Minnesota National Guard has Casualty Notification Officers who reach out to the families of the crash victims, according to Heusden.
Each family will then be assigned a Casualty Assistance Officer, who will help connect them to support programs on a case-by-case basis, she said. "Generally, they connect them to outside resources.
"They are assigned ... as long as the family needs them," Heusden said.
Late Friday morning, deputies remained on roads leading near the crash site, described as the edge of a farm field and wooded area about 15 miles southwest of St. Cloud, just outside of Marty.
"Our office is out there for scene security. We will have anywhere between two to three deputies at any given time out there," said Stearns County Capt. Jon Lentz on Friday morning. "We are assisting the Army National Guard and taking direction from them."
Lentz said the sheriff's office will be providing assistance as long as the Guard requests it.
"The lost crew members are in the thoughts and prayers of everyone in the sheriff's office," Lentz said.
The UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter left the Guard's maintenance base next to St. Cloud Regional Airport around 2 p.m. for what the Guard described as a "maintenance test flight." Nine minutes later, its crew issued a mayday call. The wreckage was found about 4 p.m.
The Army Aviation Center describes its purpose as "training, educating and developing agile and adaptive Army aviation professionals."
The Facebook page for Charlie Company, 2-211th General Support Aviation Battalion, posted about the crash:
"It is with a heavy heart that I must say this. We lost three brothers in an unimaginable event. We are honored to call all of them family and Northstar Dustoff members. Their legacies and contributions to all of us will never be forgotten. We love you! Until Valhalla ..."
Staff at St. Cloud Regional Airport tweeted they are "heartbroken" following the crash and deaths of the three Guard members:
"The airport is grieving the loss of three Mn National Guard aviators today. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers. We are heartbroken."
St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis, who served in the U.S. Air Force, attended the governor's press conference Thursday. After, he tweeted:
"Our hearts are broken as we grieve the tragic loss of three special heroes. (Our) prayers are with their families, friends and brothers and sisters in the MN National Guard."
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, tweeted the accident is a reminder of the dangers service members face every day.
"All Minnesotans are united in grief for our National Guard members who perished today. Today's accident reminds us of the dangerous job we ask them to do on a daily basis. No matter where they die, they are all heroes."
U.S. Sen. Tina Smith also tweeted Thursday night:
"This is a devastating loss for Minnesota. Words can't express my sadness for these three soldiers and their families. I'm thinking of all @MNNationalGuard members and their families tonight."
U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer released a statement Thursday, stating he and his wife are devastated by the loss of the Guard members:
"Jacquie and I send our deepest sympathies to the families of the Minnesota National Guardsmen who tragically lost their lives earlier today. Whether deployed overseas, or training here at home, the men and women of our armed forces put their lives at risk to ensure the safety and security of our nation. We are devastated by today's loss of some of Minnesota's finest heroes."
State Sens. Jeff Howe, R-Rockville; and Jerry Relph, R-St. Cloud; and Reps. Tim O'Driscoll, R-Sartell; Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring; and Tama Theis, R-St. Cloud, issued a joint statement Friday morning.
The news release stated Howe served the National Guard for 35 years before retiring in 2017; Relph is a former Marine officer and a Vietnam veteran.
"Our hearts are heavy with the loss of these three National Guard soldiers and our prayers are with them, their families and the Minnesota National Guard. While this particular unit is mobilized for overseas deployment, the fact this tragedy occurred on native soil reminds us of the challenges our soldiers face every day -- including when presumably safe at home. God bless these American heroes and, again, please keep the families they left behind in your hearts and prayers, for the sacrifices they have made are something most of us will never know."
This article was written by Jenny Berg and Erik Newland St. Cloud Times from St. Cloud Times, Minn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.