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3 dead in National Guard helicopter crash

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz says all the crew members were killed in the crash.

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Minnesota Governor Tim Walz says three National Guard soldiers were killed in a Black Hawk helicopter crash on Thursday afternoon.

All three crew members were on a routine maintenance test flight when the helicopter crashed into a farm field near Kimball in Stearns County.

Gov. Walz made the announcement in a news conference held Thursday night near the crash site.

"These are brothers in arms." said Gov. Walz, a former National Guard soldier.

The National Guard Public Affairs Office confirmed that it lost contact with a UH-60 Black Hawk at 2:05 p.m. while it was conducting the test flight that originated from St. Cloud Airport.

A search effort including crews from St. Paul Fire and Rescue, and the Minnesota State Patrol, has located wreckage near Kimball, Minnesota.

Credit: KARE

The St. Paul Fire Department tweeted that it deployed a rescue squad in support of a Minnesota Aviation Air Rescue Team (MART) activation. According to St. Paul Fire, they are responding to a report of an "aircraft down near St. Cloud following a mayday call."

The Minnesota State Patrol deployed a helicopter and a Cirrus aircraft with thermal imaging to join the search as part of the MART effort.

The Minnesota National Guard released the following statement:

On or about 2:05 p.m. on December 5, 2019, the Minnesota National Guard
lost contact with a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter while it was conducting a
maintenance test flight that originated from St. Cloud, Minnesota. The
Minnesota National Guard and local emergency services are currently trying
to determine the location and status of the aircraft. The helicopter had
three Minnesota National Guard personnel on board. Our first priority is the
safety and well-being of our Guardsmen and our thoughts are with our
soldiers and their families at this time.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz rescheduled a tree lighting in light of the situation.

According to a release from his office, "Governor Walz is in communication with the Minnesota National Guard and will be at the Capitol to monitor the developing situation."

KARE 11 research indicates that 23 military members have died in UH-60 Black Hawk crashes in the United States since 2014. The most recent was in September, when one person died in a Black Hawk crash near Fort Polk, Louisiana.

Retired Army Colonel Jack Jacobs is a Medal of Honor Recipient who flew many hours in Black Hawk helicopters and he says since the crew was on a maintenance test flight there could have been a mechanical failure or an external threat.

"There was a mayday call, which meant that there was some catastrophic event that happened at an altitude and the pilots were aware of it before it crashed," said Jacobs.

"One of the biggest threats to aircraft of all types, helicopters included, are birds. Particularly at this time of year when birds are migrating. Bird strikes are not uncommon and they threaten every aircraft that's in the air," Jacobs added.

This is a developing story. Follow KARE 11 for updates.