Military officials said the 101st Airborne Division choppers were flying in a "multi-ship formation under night vision goggles" when the crash occurred. One witness, who lives about a half mile from the crash site, said they heard a "pop" and "two booms." Trigg County Jailer James Hughes also lives about a half mile away and heard what he believed to be a collision.
Another onlooker, South Cadiz resident Nick Tomaszewski, told NBC affiliate KYTV that he often observes helicopters from Fort Campbell pass overhead, but he said the two that flew by prior to the crash seemed out of the ordinary.
"It's nothing out of the norm to see helicopters, we see them all the time, but tonight there were two that were coming kind of straight up over our house, headed straight northbound," he said. "I told my wife, 'wow, those look really close tonight' for whatever reason. About a minute later, they were coming across and there was a large explosion in the sky – almost look like a firework went off. And then the entire tree line lit up."
A military investigation is underway and the identities of the fatalities have not been released, but officials have started the process of notifying the victims' families.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear tweeted late Wednesday that he had been notified about the crash and fatalities were expected. At the press conference the next day, he said state resources would be made available to the families of the crash victims.
"Today is a tough and tragic day for Kentucky," Beshear said. "We are blessed to live in the freest country in the history of the planet, but we must remember that freedom relies on those who are willing to serve and some of which make the ultimate sacrifice."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said: "I am devastated to learn about the Army helicopter accident over Kentucky involving our brave 101st Airborne." First responders raced to the scene after the helicopters crashed to the ground.
Black Hawk HH60s are twin-engine crafts and versatile combat service helicopters used to conduct medical evacuations, air assault missions as well as special operations, according to the Army. An HH60G Pave Hawk helicopter can reach a maximum speed of 223 miles per hour and can carry between eight to 12 troops.
This is not the first Black Hawk incident that took the lives of servicemen this year. In February, two experienced Tennessee National Guard pilots died when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed along an Alabama highway.
The casualties were Chief Warrant Officer 3 Daniel Wadham of Joelton, Tennessee, and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Danny Randolph of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Both were assigned to A Company, 1-230th Assault Helicopter Battalion, from Nashville's Berry Field Air National Guard Base.
Wadham had 15 years of military service and Randolph had 13 years of military service, officials said. According to reports, the chopper crashed during a training exercise. It plummeted into a highway, catching fire as it hit the ground.
"Words cannot express my sorrow for the loss of these two Tennessee National Guardsmen," Brig. Gen. Warner Ross, Tennessee's adjutant general, said in a statement. "It is felt not only within the ranks of the Tennessee National Guard, but across our entire military community. We ask that Tennesseans continue to join us in prayer for these soldiers' families amid this tragic loss."
Witnesses were left in shock and disbelief after witnessing the incident. "I just hollered, 'My Lord! My God!' Because nobody could have survived that," said Tammy Adams, who was driving along Alabama 53 in Harvest when the crash happened.
"Looking up in the air, we saw the helicopter and BAM! We hear it hit. We saw it hit the ground, and it exploded." (Related: What's going on? Unusual number of private plane, helicopter crashes kill nearly two dozen in two weeks.)
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