ST. PAUL — The names of the three Minnesota National Guard service members who died Thursday, Dec. 5 in a helicopter crash outside of St. Cloud are expected to be released on Saturday.
State National Guard Master Sgt. Blair Heusdens said in a Friday phone call that the identities of the three will be confirmed 24 hours after their next of kin have been notified, per military policy. Additional information about the three will be shared at a press conference that Heusdens said will take place in Kimball on Saturday.
The UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter lost contact with the Guard shortly after its 2 p.m. takeoff from the Army Aviation Support Facility at the St. Cloud airport. It crashed southwest of the city near Marty, Minn. approximately 15 minutes later, according to the Stearns County Sheriff's Office.
Local law enforcement agencies as well as the Minnesota State Patrol and St. Paul Fire Department aided in the search for the downed copter after the Sheriff's Office received word of the crash from the Guard. The deaths of all three crew members aboard the craft were confirmed by Gov. Tim Walz at a press conference in Kimball late Thursday.
The Guard said that the helicopter had been taking part in what it described as a "maintenance test flight." It declined on Friday to say how frequently such flights are conducted.
A Guard spokesman confirmed on Friday that the Safety Investigation Team of the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center in Fort Rucker, Ala. is investigating the crash. The Stearns County Sheriff's Office has said that it will assist in the effort.
According to the center's website, it functions as the "single source of safety and occupational health information" for soldiers, Army civilians and contractors.
News of the service member's deaths resulted in an outpouring of grief and sympathy from numerous Minnesota elected officials. At Thursday evening's press conference, Walz — himself an Army National Guard veteran — said the three "fallen heroes" had paid "the ultimate price."
"Words will never ease the pain of this tragic loss and the state of Minnesota is forever in the debt of these warriors," he said. "My heart breaks for the families, the friends and the fellow soldiers."
In a statement, state Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said that the incident serves as a reminder of the dangerous work that servicemen and women are asked to do.
"No matter where they die, they are all heroes," he said.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar echoed that sentiment in a statement of her own.
"In Minnesota we wrap our arms around our brave men and women who make such immense sacrifices to keep our nation strong and free," the Minnesota Democrat said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of these brave service members and with the entire Minnesota National Guard community, at home and overseas."
In remembrance of the three, Walz on Friday ordered government offices throughout Minnesota to fly the U.S. and state flags at half-staff beginning at 2:05 p.m., the time on Thursday when contact with the helicopter was lost. The order will be lifted at that time on Monday, Dec. 9, according to a statement from Walz.