Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Marine Helicopters Collide during Drill; 14 People Are Killed

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Marine Helicopters Collide during Drill; 14 People Are Killed

Article excerpt

Two Marine helicopters collided in the dark and crashed in a piney swamp Friday during a training exercise, killing 14 people. A pilot and co-pilot were seriously injured.

The collision involved a CH-46E Sea Knight troop transport and an AH-1W Cobra assault helicopter. The accident happened about 2 a.m. in clear weather under a half-moon.

Rescue workers had to wade into chest-deep mud and water and cut through the underbrush with chain saws to search for bodies.

"It's in a heavily marshed thick woods, extremely dense underbrush, making it just about impassable by any kind of vehicle," said Col. J.C. Yannessa.

Crews retrieved all the bodies by 6 p.m. Many were heavily burned by a fire that broke out on impact, said a Pentagon official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The base identified the survivors as Maj. Charles A. Johnson, of Fairfax, Va., and 1st Lt. Walter W. Kulakowski, of Alachua, Fla., both Marines. Johnson was in critical condition and Kulakowski was in stable condition, the base said. The Pentagon official said the survivors were the pilot and co-pilot of the CH-46E.

The base also identified three of the dead as Maj. Michael D. Kuszewski, of Fort Devens, Mass.; Capt. Scott T. Rice, of Springfield, Mo.; and 1st Lt. Arthur J. Schneider, of Livingston, N.J. All were Marines.

The names of the other dead were being withheld pending notification of their families. Officials said the dead also included a sailor and a soldier.

It was the worst Marine Corps aviation disaster since a Sea Knight crashed at sea in 1989, killing 14 people aboard. Friday's crash took place during the biggest U.S.-British training exercise in history. All the victims were Americans.

At the White House, President Bill Clinton said, "Our hearts go out to the families, the friends, the loved ones of those who lost their lives. …

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