BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho National Guard's 1st Battalion of the 183rd Aviation Regiment conducts routine training missions three nights each week.
Three of the Guard's aviators departed Boise at approximately 6:50 p.m. Tuesday night, and never returned home to their loved ones.
The pilots had more than 30 years of combined experience with thousands of hours of flight time. The Guard has not yet released the pilots' names, but we know they died as heroes.
"As the commander, one of the greatest things about aviation is we are... [an] extremely close-knit unit," said Lt. Col. Nicole Washington, commander of the 183rd's Assault Helicopter Battalion. "That also makes it very hard."
Washington said she not only was the pilots' commander but also their friend, having been deployed before with all of the aviators.
"Two of them were instructor pilots and it leaves a tremendous, indescribable void in our aviation community," she said.
The three Idaho Army National Guard personnel were killed when their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed in a remote area south of Lucky Peak shortly after 8 p.m. Tuesday.
"We've conducted multiple search and rescue operations to rescue local Idahoans," Washington said. "So it's important for us to put ourselves in those conditions, in those positions, to know how to train because we understand that whenever we go out to save someone, it's not always going to be ideal conditions."
Gov. Brad Little, commander-in-chief of the Idaho National Guard, encouraged Idahoans to never forget the sacrifice guard members make every day for our state and country.
"To the people of Idaho, these are tough times," Little said. "I just ask everyone to think about everyone that serves, particularly the Idaho National Guard, and what they do every day and the risks that they take. Remember, their number one goal is to defend this country."
Maj. Gen. Michael Garshak, adjutant general of Idaho and commander of the Idaho National Guard, and Col. Christopher Burt, the Idaho Army National Guard's state aviation officer, became slightly emotional when addressing the media Tuesday morning.
"I've received numerous messages of condolence from many people here in Idaho and throughout the nation," Garshak said. "All of your thoughts, prayers and support are sincerely appreciated and much needed."
Garshak added that his immediate priority is to care for and assist the families of the fallen aviators.
Said Burt, "On behalf of the Idaho Army Aviation Group, I extend the deepest of sympathies to the families, loved ones, and friends of these amazing Americans."
The cause of the crash has not been determined as of Wednesday, but Washington spoke of the dangers her unit can endure while training.
"We will have to land in mountainous areas," she said. "We will have to go out in bad weather. For us in the Army, to try and train as we fight, and train our aviation personnel to be the most proficient so that we can go out and provide that same support for the state."
Washington said all three aviators were experienced in search and rescue techniques and experienced in flying in adverse conditions and bad weather.
"The most senior crew member has been flying for well over 15 years," Washington said. "The next senior crew member [had been] flying well over 10 years. Probably the most junior crew member had been flying for five years. So thousands of [flight] hours between the crew. Extremely, extremely experienced.
"One of the crew members was what we call our standardization instructor pilot," she added. "So he's the instructor pilot of instructor pilots."
Washington said, as of Wednesday, flying operations are ceased because the cause of Tuesday's crash is still unknown. The unit will eventually get back to flying once cleared, but it will be with heavy hearts.
"[The fallen pilots] are an intricate, necessary part of our community and they will be missed," Washington said. "And there's no way we will be able to replace or fill the void that they've left."
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