An Army National Guard helicopter on a training mission crashed into a hillside in northern Stanislaus County Wednesday afternoon.
Authorities said the three soldiers on board survived the firey crash with only minor cuts and bruises.
A cattle rancher on the William Snow ranch off Highway 4 and Milton Road saw smoke billowing from a hillside on his property around 2:15 pm Wednesday. Loren Mrnak said he saw the wreckage of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter burning and found three military men nearby. One of the crew members used Mrnak´s cellular phone to call 9-1-1 for help.
More than 10 acres of dry grass burned before firefighters from the California Department of Forestry were able to contain the spread. The remains of the helicopter were spread across a wide area and only a partial frame of the aircraft and broken rotor blades were distinguishable.
“These men are very lucky to be alive,” said Colonel Daniel Nelan. “They didn´t suffer any serious injuries and were taken to the hospital to be checked out.”
Nelan is the Director of Aviation Safety for the Army National Guard stationed in Sacramento. He flew to the scene Wednesday afternoon to coordinate the investigation into the crash. “We will have a full investigation completed by the Army´s Accident Investigation Team from Ft. Rucker, Alabama.”
This is a routine training area for the National Guard and they were on a routine training mission out of Stockton,” said Nelan. “The cause is yet to be determined.”
Deputies from the Stanislaus County Sheriff´s Department were guarding the crash scene late Wednesday awaiting the arrival of the military team Thursday morning.
The CH-47 is a twin-engine, tandem rotor helicopter designed for transportation of cargo, troops, and weapons during day, night, visual, and instrument conditions. The aircraft fuselage is approximately 50 feet long.
With a 60-foot rotor span, on each rotor system, the effective length of a CH-47 (with blades turning) is approximately 100 feet from the most forward point of the forward rotor to the most rearward point on the aft rotor.
The CH-47D was rolled-out in March 1979. The CH-47D carries twice the load of a CH-47A and has improved performance. The CH-47D can operate at night and in nearly all weather conditions. The CH-47D is equipped with an air-to-air refueling probe. The Chinook can accommodate a wide variety of internal payloads, including vehicles, artillery pieces, 33 to 44 troops, or 24 litters plus two medical attendants.
During Desert Storm “the CH-47D was often the only mode of transportation to shift large numbers of personnel, equipment, and supplies rapidly over the vast area in which US forces operated. The cargo capacity and speed provided commanders and logisticians a capability unequalled by any Army in the world.”