(WASHINGTON) — Five American service members were killed in a crash late Friday after their helicopter had a “mishap” during a training exercise and went into the eastern Mediterranean Sea, the military said Sunday.
Two officials confirmed that the five were Army special operations soldiers, as first reported by The New York Times and Washington Post. Search and rescue efforts went into Saturday before being called off, according to the officials.
Department of Defense officials on Monday identified the service members as Chief Warrant Officer 3 Stephen R. Dwyer, 38 of Clarksville, Tennessee; Chief Warrant Officer 2 Shane M. Barnes, 34, of Sacramento, California; Staff Sgt. Tanner W. Grone, 26, of Gorham, New Hampshire; Sgt. Andrew P. Southard, 27, of Apache Junction, Arizona; and Sgt. Cade M. Wolfe, 24, of Mankato, Minnesota.
“We mourn the loss of these five incredible soldiers, each of them a national treasure,” Lt. Gen. Jonathan P. Braga said in a statement. “They hail from rare patriotic families with deep military service ties that span multiple generations and formations.”
They were members of an elite unit, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), known as the Night Stalkers, based in Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, officials said. They’re the Army’s best helicopter pilots and usually transport Delta Force or Seal Team Six into missions.
“Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families of the fallen,” the department said. “The U.S. Army’s Combat Readiness Center is conducting an investigation into the incident.”
The craft that crashed was an MH-60 helicopter, the officials said.
U.S. European Command said in an initial statement on Saturday that the cause of the crash was under investigation but “there are no indications of hostile activity.”
The aircraft was conducting a “routine air refueling mission” when the “mishap” occurred, according to European Command’s statement on Sunday. Further details about what went wrong were not provided.
The helicopter went down near Cyprus, a third U.S. official said. The crew was part of special operations forces recently sent there to be in place if needed to help evacuate American citizens from the region amid the unfolding Israel-Hamas war, according to this official.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in his own statement that “while we continue to gather more information about this deadly crash, it is another stark reminder that the brave men and women who defend our great nation put their lives on the line each and every day to keep our country safe. They represent the best of America. We will remember their service and their sacrifice.”
“My prayers are with the patriots we have lost today and their families, loved ones, and teammates,” Austin said.
European Command officials and Austin’s statement initially conflicted on the timing of the incident, whether it was late Friday or early Saturday. The Pentagon said Sunday afternoon that it was late Friday.
President Joe Biden publicly mourned the deaths, saying in a statement that military members “put their lives on the line for our country every day. They willingly take risks to keep the American people safe and secure. And their daily bravery and selflessness is an enduring testament to what is best in our nation.”
Acknowledging the crash occurred at the start of Veterans Day weekend, Biden said, “We once more affirm the sacred obligation we bear to those who volunteer to serve our nation as well as their families, caregivers, and survivors.”
“Jill and I are praying for the families and friends who have lost a precious loved one—a piece of their soul. Our entire nation shares their grief,” the president said.
ABC News’ Fritz Farrow contributed to this report.
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