Three soldiers from the Minnesota National Guard were killed Thursday when the Black Hawk helicopter they were riding in for a routine maintenance test flight crashed in a farm field in central Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz confirmed, Trend reports citing AP.
The identities of the soldiers were not immediately released, pending notification of family.
The crash was being investigated and preliminary information on the cause was not released.
“My heart breaks for the families, the friends and fellow soldiers,” Walz said at a news conference. “The coming days will be dark and difficult.” He said Minnesota stands ready to assist the families of the soldiers who were killed.
Maj. Gen. Jon Jensen, the adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard, said in a tweet: “Our Minnesota National Guard family is devastated by the deaths of these soldiers. Our priority right now is ensuring that our families are taken care of.”
The National Guard said the helicopter was a UH-60 Black Hawk from the guard’s Army Aviation Safety Facility in St. Cloud.
The Guard lost contact with the helicopter shortly after it took off on a maintenance test flight from St. Cloud on Thursday afternoon, Guard Master Sgt. Blair Heusdens said. The helicopter called mayday about nine minutes after takeoff.
Stearns County Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Dan Miller told reporters that the mayday call came in at about 2:15 p.m. Crews from multiple departments spent several hours searching before finding the crash, Miller said.
The Minnesota State Patrol was called to bring in a helicopter to help with the search. A State Patrol Cirrus aircraft, equipped with thermal imaging cameras, also helped in the search.
Television aerial footage showed the wreck of the helicopter along a tree line near open fields near St. Cloud, a city about 59 miles (95 kilometers) northwest of Minneapolis. Apparent scorch marks encircled the flattened wreckage in the snow.
The Guard’s base near St. Cloud Regional Airport has been in operation since 2009, with Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters maintained there.
Walz served for 24 years in the Army National Guard, while he was a schoolteacher and coach, but retired in 2005 to run for Congress. He canceled a tree-lighting ceremony Thursday and went to the area near the crash site.
03:31 (GMT+4) According to Army Col. Joe Sharkey, director of communications for the Minnesota National Guard, the UH-60 Black Hawk lost communication with the ground Thursday afternoon nine minutes after taking off from the Army aviation facility in St. Cloud, Minnesota at around 1:55 p.m., Trend reports citing Sputnik.
Sharkey did not provide any information about how many people were on board the helicopter and where the flight was bound to.
Search efforts are currently ongoing for the four-blade, twin-engine, medium-lift utility helicopter.
"The Minnesota Army National Guard is currently trying to work with local authorities in St. Cloud based on its flight pattern," Sharkey told ABC News.
In another statement, Minnesota National Guard Master Sgt. Blair Heusdens reiterated the same notion.
"We do not have contact with the helicopter but we do not quite yet know what the situation is. We're working to figure it out," Heusdens is quoted as saying by the SC Times.
The St. Paul Fire Department has deployed a rescue squadron in search of the missing aircraft.
Multiple law enforcement agencies are reportedly trying to determine the location of the passengers' cell phones in an effort to locate the helicopter.