4 Killed In Black Hawk Chopper Crash On Mount Massive

One Victim Identified By Family As Father 2

Four people on board a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter were killed when the military chopper crashed on Colorado's second-highest peak Wednesday afternoon.

Three of the four on board died in the crash on Mount Massive, the U.S. Army confirmed Thursday.

The fourth victim of the crash was airlifted to St. Anthony Hospital in Denver but that flight was diverted to the Summit Medical Center in Frisco. Summit County Coroner Joan Richardson said Thursday that the 33-year-old man brought to Frisco on that flight died at 6:57 p.m.

The Army initially said two were killed, one was injured and one was missing.

Lt. Col. John Clearwater said all four people on the helicopter were male soldiers, calling them a "a highly experienced, seasoned crew."

Their names haven't been released but a family member of one of the victims has identified her brother as one of those killed in the crash. Terry Geer, who just turned 40, has a wife and two children who live in Fort Campbell, Ky., where he was stationed, the sister told the ABC TV affiliate in Toledo, Ohio. He was an Army pilot and a veteran of Desert Storm.

Tonya Geer said her brother was planning to retire in the next few months.

The helicopter was assigned to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment out of Ft. Campbell, the Army said in a news release. Its Web site says soldiers from the 160th have carried out combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The crew was training in high-altitude mountainous conditions, "much like the environment they operate in Afghanistan," Clearwater said, adding that he didn't know whether the crew had served there.

The helicopter took off from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, which is about 90 miles east of Mount Massive.

Barb Timock, a Forest Service spokeswoman, said the crash happened near the peak of 14,421-foot Mount Massive, at about 13,800 feet.

FAA spokesman Allen Kenitzer said a search and rescue team reached the crash site around 3 p.m. Wednesday. Two Flight For Life helicopters and an ambulance were called to transport the injured.

The crash was heard by U.S. Forest Service workers building trails with a youth group around 1:45 p.m., said incident spokeswoman Betty Benson.

Benson said the chopper was "fairly demolished." A Black Hawk helicopter on patrol in Afghanistan.

The cause of the crash hasn't been released. The Black Hawk's flight recorder was recovered and an investigation team by the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center in Fort Rucker, Ala. was at the site Thursday.

The wreckage remains on the mountain and it may take days to remove it.

The Army has blocked off an area about a mile radius around the crash site and instituted a no-fly zone in the area.

Campers in the area were evacuated Wednesday night. Runners from around the world are in Leadville this weekend for the Leadville 100 race, an ultra-marathon that is 50 miles out and back in the midst of the Colorado Rockies. The majority is run on forest trails with some mountain roads. Race organizers said the race route runs through the crash site, but they are working around that and will determine an alternate route.

Night Stalkers Serve Special Operations Forces

The 160th SOAR is also known as the Night Stalkers and is responsible for transporting special operations forces, according to the unit's Ft. Campbell Web site.

The unit first saw action during Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada in 1983. The unit was also involved in the 1993 Battle of Mogadishu. The 18-hour firefight was made popular in the book and movie "Black Hawk Down."

More recently, the unit has supported operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Five soldiers from the regiment were among eight service members killed in February 2007 when a CH-47 Chinook crashed in southern Afghanistan. The military said the helicopter was carrying 22 U.S. service members when it crashed in the Shahjoi district of Zabul province. Fourteen people on board survived.

Maj. Brandon A. Bissell, a spokesman for the regiment at Fort Campbell, said planning has started for a memorial for the soldiers, but no details were available yet.

Was High Altititude Problem For Black Hawk?

According to Army.mil, the Black Hawk is a transport helicopter. It usually carries a crew of four -- two pilots and two crew chiefs. It can travel about 368 miles and carry up to 9,000 pounds. Its service ceiling is 19,000 feet.

The MH-60 Black Hawk is frequently used for infiltration missions and to bring supplies to special operations forces in the field, according to the unit's Web site. The helicopter is also used for rescue and medical evacuations, and an armed version is used for escort and fire support.

The aircraft is armored and its "airframe is designed to progressively crush on impact to protect crew and passengers."

Not all helicopters can fly at high altitudes. Only those with powerful engines are able to achieve the lift needed to stay airborne in the thinner air found at higher elevations.

Higher temperatures can compound the problem, making it seem as if the chopper is flying at an even higher elevation than it really is, said Maj. Joshua Day, the commander of the Colorado Army National Guard's High-Altitude Army Aviation Training Site in Gypsum, which helps train pilots for missions to Afghanistan.

"The effects kind of pile on to each other," he said.

At the training site, instructors focus on what's called power management, becoming aware of how much power a chopper's engine is able to produce given conditions and how to operate accordingly. Day said coming in too fast or too slow could cause the rotor to spin slower and the chopper to sink, a big danger for aircraft flying so close to the ground.

Weather conditions reported near the site of the crash weren't unusual for the mountains -- temperatures in the 50s and 60s and winds gusting up to 26 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

But those conditions were reported between 2,000 feet and 4,000 feet below where the helicopter crashed, and there can be significant differences in winds and temperatures as altitude increases, said Jim Pringle, a meteorologist with the agency's Grand Junction office.

Mount Massive is part of the Sawatch Range with Mount Elbert, Colorado's highest mountain. It has five summits above 14,000 feet on a 3-mile-long ridge. Mount Massive has more area above 14,000 feet than any other mountain in the lower 48 states, according to SummitPost.org. The two mountains are located west of Leadville and form part of the Continental Divide.

Leadville, a town with a population of 2,600, at an elevation of 10,000 feet, is about 85 southwest of Denver.

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