Press Release

Following National Guard Helicopter Crashes In Rochester And Boise, Gillibrand Calls For Investigation Into Pattern Of Crashes Involving UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopters

Feb 8, 2021

Following the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crash in Rochester on January 20th, which claimed the lives of three members of the New York National Guard, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, chair of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, is urging the U.S. Department of Defense to launch an investigation into the apparent trend of crashes involving the UH-60 Black Hawk. Less than two weeks after the tragic events in Rochester, three members of the Idaho National Guard were killed while operating a UH-60 Black Hawk outside of Boise, ID ?— this marked the third crash since December 2019 that has killed National Guard members piloting the helicopter. Similarly, a crash in California involving the MH-60 helicopter — a variation of the UH-60 Black Hawk — killed two members of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. In a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Gillibrand is calling for an investigation and a briefing on these incidents to determine if there is a pattern of malfunction with the UH-60 Black Hawk. 

“These recent helicopter crashes are tragic and reveal a disturbing trend that must be investigated,” said Senator Gillibrand. “When our brave service members put on their uniforms and go to work, they should have confidence their command is looking out for the safety and readiness of their equipment. I’m urging the DoD to launch a comprehensive investigation of these UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashes to determine if there is a pattern. I pray for the families of the service members who lost their lives in crashes and I will keep fighting to ensure our armed services have safe equipment.” 

Full text of the letter can be found here and below. 

The Honorable Lloyd Austin


U.S. Department of Defense

1400 Defense Pentagon

Washington, DC 20301-1400

Dear Secretary Austin,

I write to you today to ask that you take steps to investigate a disturbing pattern of incidents involving the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. In the past month, two UH-60 crashes have resulted in the tragic deaths of six members of the National Guard. Since December of 2019, there have now been three crashes involving the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, which have claimed the lives of nine members of our nation’s National Guard.

On the evening of January 20, 2021, three members of the New York National Guard tragically perished during a routine training mission involving the UH-60 helicopter. The UH-60 was based at the Army Aviation Support Facility at the Greater Rochester International Airport. Less than two weeks later, on February 2, 2021, three members of the Idaho National Guard perished in a helicopter crash outside of Boise. Those brave service members similarly piloted a UH-60 helicopter on a routine training mission. These tragic events followed a December 2019 crash near St. Cloud, Minnesota, which took the lives of three members of the Minnesota National Guard also piloting a UH-60 helicopter.

In 2020, the summary of results of the St. Cloud crash, investigated by the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, concluded that the helicopter’s number one engine failed during a maximum power check while the number two engine was in an idle setting, causing a dual engine-out condition. The failure was attributed to the incorrect installation of the engine’s hydromechanical unit.

In a separate incident in late August, 2020, a crash near San Clemente Island, California took the lives of two members of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. These soldiers were piloting an MH-60 helicopter, a variation of the UH-60 Black Hawk.

At this time, the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker is investigating the recent crashes outside of Rochester and Boise. These incidents are being investigated as disparate events. However, three crashes involving the National Guard’s use of the UH-60 in just over a year raises significant concerns about a systemic issue with the Black Hawk helicopter operation cycle. The further case of the MH-60 crash raises additional questions that we urgently need answered.

Accordingly, I ask that you take all necessary steps to promptly investigate these incidents to determine if they fit a larger pattern of malfunction with the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. If so, I ask that the Department of Defense produce recommendations and guidance regarding the operational readiness of the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and its crew to ensure the safety of our service members. I also request that you provide a classified briefing on the status of (1) your investigation into the tragic deaths of these service-members, (2) any mechanical, software, electrical, or other problems with the UH-60 Black Hawk that cause it to malfunction or make it further difficult to pilot, and (3) the Department of Defense’s plan to rectify this issue. Because of the ongoing danger posed to our service members, I ask for this briefing to occur as soon as the disparate investigations are complete.