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    Nine injured in National Guard copter crash

    Nine injured in National Guard copter crash near Mexican border

    By Steve Liewer and Pauline Repard
    UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
    7:11 p.m. January 2, 2007

    OTAY MESA – A California National Guard helicopter crashed on Otay Mountain Tuesday afternoon, injuring all nine National Guardsmen and U.S. Border Patrol agents aboard, authorities said.
    The UH-1 Huey transport had taken off from North Island Naval Air Station and was on a routine flight when it went down at 3:50 p.m., said Maj. Ken Witt, a National Guard spokesman. The helicopter landed on its belly with its main rotor snapped off and its tail snapped off to one side near Otay Lakes Road and the Minnewana Truck Trail.

    A Sheriff's Department spokesman said his office received a call from the Border Patrol for assistance about 3:45 p.m. Helicopters from the Sheriff's Department, Mercy Air, San Diego police and the Border Patrol ferried the nine injured to hospitals.

    Four of the injured were National Guard crew members and five were Border Patrol agents, Witt said.

    Sheriff's Lt. Dave Myers said injuries were “moderate to major” but none appeared life-threatening.
    Authorities wouldn't speculate on the cause of the crash. Capt. Brennan Blue of the California Department of Forestry, which provided medical response, said there were power lines down near the crash site, “but it's undetermined whether they went down before the crash or after.”

    The National Weather Service said skies were clear and winds were light, at 6-7 mph, although a wind advisory was called for the area's mountains mid-Tuesday.

    A National Guard accident investigation team was en route to the site.

    The flight was part of Operation Jumpstart, an initiative that President Bush launched last summer to use National Guard troops to bolster border security.

    There have been at least 100 such missions since the operation began in July, said National Guard Capt. Mike Morgan.

    Morgan said the missions are “relatively safe,” with weather usually being the major concern.

    The Huey first flew in 1959 and was the mainstay of the U.S. Army transport fleet during the Vietnam War. About 9,000 were built, the last in 1976, according to the military web site Globalsecurity.org. Fewer than 150 of the helicopters were still in use in September 2004.
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    update

    California Nat'l Guard helicopters on border grounded after crash

    By Allison Hoffman
    ASSOCIATED PRESS
    5:09 p.m. January 3, 2007

    NATIONAL CITY – California National Guard helicopters deployed to help monitor the U.S.-Mexico border were grounded Wednesday following a crash that injured nine people in mountains east of San Diego.
    Two National Guard soldiers and three Border Patrol agents remained hospitalized with neck and back injuries suffered in Tuesday's crash, said Col. Kevin Ellsworth, commander of the joint mission along the California border. In all there were five agents and four Guard members aboard.

    Officials would not comment on the cause of the crash of the 1973 UH-1 Huey transport helicopter, which went down while transporting the Border Patrol team to inaccessible areas for operations against human smugglers.
    The grounding order applied to six remaining helicopters on border duty, including one Huey and five OH-58 observation craft. The Guard's six other Hueys elsewhere in the state remain operational.

    “Any time there's an accident there's a safety stand-down,” Ellsworth said. Any decision to put the helicopters back in the air will come from state investigators, he said.

    The crash occurred about 3:40 p.m. on Otay Mountain about 20 miles southeast of downtown San Diego and a few miles north of the international border. The craft, which had picked up the agents at Brown Field, came to rest on its belly, its main rotor snapped off and tail broken.

    Power lines were reported down near the site, but authorities said it was not clear whether the lines contributed to the crash or were downed as the helicopter fell.

    The cause of the crash will be investigated by a team from the state National Guard and another from the U.S. Army Aviation center at Fort Rucker, Ala.

    Col. Mitchell Medigovich, an aviation expert who is leading the California National Guard's investigation into the accident, said the helicopter was among Vietnam-era Hueys still flown by the state Guard.

    The Guard's more modern Black Hawk helicopters are currently undergoing refurbishment after deployment in support of the Guard's operations in Iraq, though Medigovich said some may be sent to the border in coming months.

    “We don't want to speculate that the cause of the accident was anything to do with the age of these helicopters,” Medigovich said, noting that the helicopter had undergone regular maintenance.

    UH-1 maintenance is performed by Guard personnel, said Jonathan Guibord, a Guard spokesman.

    A Border Patrol spokesman in the San Diego sector said he was not away of any instruction to ground its own air fleet, which consists mainly of Black Hawk helicopters and one Huey, but said agents would continue to hike into remote areas until the National Guard air transports resumed.

    “They'll still be working out there, but they won't be going up in helicopters,” said agent Damon Foreman.

    Medigovich said the UH-1 pilot and co-pilot were both experienced fliers with years of experience.

    Ellsworth said all of the crew members credited the pilots with bringing the helicopter down as gently as possible in rough terrain.

    “The wreckage looks pretty bad,” Ellsworth said. “It could have been devastating, and all the people aboard survived.”

    A National Guard medic was thrown from the helicopter as it landed and was pinned beneath the craft, Ellsworth said. He directed others in the crew to shut off the fuel supply and prop up the helicopter before digging him out from underneath, Ellsworth said.

    None of the injuries were life-threatening, Ellsworth said. He would not release any details of the names, ages, or ranks of those aboard, citing privacy concerns.

    Hueys first flew in 1959 and were last produced in 1976, according to GlobalSecurity.org, a Web site that provides information on defense issues. The Army converted to the UH-60 as the mainstay of its transport fleet.

    “There's a standing gripe by the (National) Guard that they get the hand-me-downs,” said John Pike, director of the organization. “The regular Army just doesn't fly these things anymore. ... They are the signature helicopter of Vietnam.”

    Still, a 33-year-old helicopter is not unfit for flight because of its age, Pike said.

    The UH-1 that went down was manufactured by Bell in 1973 and had logged 3,691 hours, said Lt. Scott Ghiringhelli, a California National Guard spokesman.

    “At 3,600 hours, they're still breaking it in,” Pike said.

    The UH-1's mission Tuesday was one of hundreds the National Guard has flown since arriving on the border in July, Ellsworth said.

    The crash was the first since the launch of Operation Jumpstart, which has sent National Guard soldiers to the U.S.-Mexico border to support Border Patrol operations. In California, 1,400 state Guardsmen have volunteered to take part in the mission, officials said.
    Molly Weasley makes Chuck Norris eat his vegetables.

    Do not puff, shade, skew, tailor, firm up, stretch, massage,
    or otherwise distort statements of fact.
    FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley

 

 

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