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Army won’t say yet if helicopters collided in deadly crash

THURSTON COUNTY, Wash. – The Army isn’t saying yet whether a mid-air collision caused the crash of two reconnaissance helicopters at a training area on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The accident Monday night killed four Washington-based Army aviators.

The helicopters went down in a wooded area just after eight o’clock in the evening. The four pilots – two in each chopper – were on a nighttime training flight. They were flying model called the Kiowa Warrior equipped with high-tech surveillance gear.

These single engine helicopters are used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan to provide air support and security for ground troops. Army safety officer James Oliphant says the pilots would have been using night vision. But he adds the weather was clear at the time of the crash.

“When I arrived here last night the conditions were what we would call VFR conditions so they were certainly suitable for flying. That will be part of the investigation also,” Oliphant said.

The Army is bringing in crash investigators from a post in Alabama. The names of those killed in the accident have not been released. The last time a Fort Lewis-based chopper crashed during nighttime training was in 2006 killing three.

Copyright 2011 Northwest News Network

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.