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2 US Army helicopters crash in Alaska on training flight

Maintenance workers inspect an AH-64 Apache helicopter on March 4, 2020, in Kearns, Utah. (George Frey/Getty Images)

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The U.S. Army on Friday said that it has grounded non-critical aviation flight units for training after deadly helicopter crashes in Alaska and Kentucky killed 12 in the past month.

The suspension of air operations was effective immediately, with units grounded until they complete the training, said Lt. Col. Terence Kelley, an Army spokesperson. For active-duty units, the training is to take place between May 1 and 5. Army National Guard and Reserve units will have until May 31 to complete the training.

On Thursday, two Army helicopters collided near Healy, Alaska, killing three soldiers and injuring a fourth. The helicopters were from the 1st Attack Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment at Fort Wainwright, near Fairbanks, and were returning from training at the time of the crash, the Army said.

A U.S. Army team from Alabama has been making its way to the Alaska Interior to the investigate the collision between two AH-64 Apache helicopters.

Much is still not publicly known about the crash in the remote interior of the state that’s 250 miles (402 kilometers) from Anchorage.

The Army says the investigation will be conducted by a team from Fort Novosel that is expected to arrive by Saturday.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska (AP) — Military investigators were making their way to Alaska’s interior on Friday, one day after a midair collision between two helicopters killed three soldiers and injured a fourth.

The investigative team from Fort Novosel, Alabama, was expected to arrive at the scene of the crash near Healy, Alaska, by Saturday, said John Pennell, a spokesperson for the U.S. Army Alaska. Little new information about the crash was released Friday.

The Army on Thursday said two of the soldiers died at the crash site, and a third died on the way to a hospital in Fairbanks. A fourth soldier was injured and taken to a hospital. That soldier was in stable condition on Friday, Pennell said. The names of those who were killed were not immediately released.

The Army said more details would be released when they became available.

Each AH-64 Apache helicopter was carrying two people at the time of the crash, Pennell has said. The helicopters were from the 1st Attack Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment at Fort Wainwright, based near Fairbanks.

“This is an incredible loss for these soldiers’ families, their fellow soldiers, and for the division,” Maj. Gen. Brian Eifler, commanding general of the 11th Airborne Division, said in the Army statement. “Our hearts and prayers go out to their families, friends and loved ones, and we are making the full resources of the Army available to support them.”

The crash is the second accident involving military helicopters in Alaska this year.

In February, two soldiers were injured when an Apache helicopter rolled after taking off from Talkeetna. The aircraft was one of four traveling to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage from Fort Wainwright.

In March, nine soldiers were killed when two U.S. Army Black Hawk medical evacuation helicopters crashed during a routine nighttime training exercise about 30 miles (50 kilometers) northeast of Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

Healy is located about 10 miles (16 kilometers) north of Denali National Park and Preserve, or about 250 miles (400 kilometers) north of Anchorage.

Healy is a community of about 1,000 people located on the Parks Highway in Alaska’s interior region. It is a popular place for people to spend the night while visiting the nearby park, which is home to Denali, the continent’s tallest mountain.

Healy is also famous for being the town closest to the former bus that had been abandoned in the backcountry and was popularized by the book “Into the Wild” and the movie of the same name. The bus was removed and taken to Fairbanks in 2020.