FORT HOOD, Texas -- Heavy rains and flash flooding claimed the lives of eight Soldiers and one West Point cadet when their tactical vehicle overturned at a low-water crossing here, June 2, on the eastern side of the installation's training area.
Three Soldiers who escaped the vehicle were treated and released from the Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, June 3.
Emergency response crews from Fort Hood and surrounding communities initially recovered the bodies of five Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 16th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division June 2, with search-and-rescue operations continuing throughout the following day to recover the remaining four.
"Our rescue operations continued throughout today, and I'm sad to report that we recovered our four missing Soldiers," Maj. Gen. John Uberti, III Corps and Fort Hood deputy commanding general, announced during an evening press conference, June 3. "Tragically, all four of those Soldiers are deceased and we've lost, in this incident, nine of our great Soldiers. We continue to care for the Families and friends of our fallen comrades and our thoughts and prayers are with the Soldiers of the 1st Cav. Div."
Staff Sgt. Miguel Angel Colonvazquez, 38; Spc. Christine Faith Armstrong, 27; Spc. Yingming Sun, 25; Pfc. Brandon Austin Banner, 22; Pfc. Zachery Nathaniel Fuller, 23; Pvt. Isaac Lee Deleon, 19; Pvt. Eddy Raelaurin Gates, 20; Pvt. Tysheena Lynette James, 21; and West Point Cadet Mitchell Alexander Winey, 21, died when their Light Medium Tactical Vehicle overturned at the Owl Creek low-water crossing while conducting convoy operations.
At 11:20 a.m. June 2, Fort Hood emergency crews responded to a swift-water emergency call. Recent heavy rains and flash flooding forced the closure of all low-water crossings on the three main range roads, complicating rescue-and-recovery operations, Fort Hood Fire Chief Coleman Smith explained.
"The challenge was that no one from the southern areas of the installation could respond north to help within the first few minutes of the emergency," he said.
Initially, the Killeen Fire Department and the Morgan's Point Volunteer Fire Department assisted Fort Hood crews, said Chris Zimmer, deputy director of Fort Hood's Emergency Services, with additional resources provided by Texas Task Force 1, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas State Game Warden's Office. In total, more than 170 emergency service professionals assisted with the search and recovery operations.
"We had boat teams and swimmers, helicopters and ground search experts who provided incredible support in helping us search for survivors of this tragedy and search for deceased victims," Zimmer said. "The support from Texas Task Force 1 was particularly noteworthy in helping us find the victims of this tragedy. They have extensive experience in search and rescue operations. We were able to quickly pull together all of our resources to prepare and execute a cohesive search, rescue and recovery operation."
According to Fort Hood safety officials, this recent loss of life stands as one of the Army's deadliest ground accidents to date and the second time in 16 years that flash flooding on the installation resulted in fatalities. In 2000, a 4th Infantry Division Soldier drowned when his Bradley fighting vehicle overturned during training.
"This tragedy extends well beyond Fort Hood and the outpouring of support from around the country is sincerely appreciated," Uberti said, "… we also are providing support and counseling for the Soldiers, Families and friends affected by this tragedy."
According to Chap. (Maj.) Michael Baumann, III Corps Chaplains Office, chaplains and unit ministry teams from across Fort Hood set up emergency counseling sites, both on scene and at on post chapels. Social workers and behavioral health counselors from CRDAMC were also on hand for Soldiers, Family members, first responders and West Point cadets training at Fort Hood.
In a Facebook post June 3, Maj. Gen. J.T. Thomson III, commanding general for the 1st Cav. Div., expressed his thanks and appreciation for the quick response and support from state, county and local emergency services for their efforts during search operations.
"We now mourn nine fallen troopers who will never be forgotten," the commanding general stated. "As the extended Cav Family grieves together, we wrap our arms around the loved ones and teammates impacted by this tragedy. Your continued prayers in the days and weeks ahead are greatly appreciated. As we go through this difficult period, I am confident that our strength and bonds will grow. The First Team has always been resilient, and will always be."
A Centralized Accident Investigation team from the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, headquartered at Fort Rucker, Ala., arrived here June 3 to lead the accident investigation. The purpose of an accident investigation is to determine what happened and is for accident-prevention purposes only.
In addition, an Army Regulation 15-6 investigating officer from U.S. Forces Command is in the preliminary stages of gathering information for an AR 15-6 investigation. The purpose of an AR 15-6 investigation is to collect information for the command so that the command can make an informed decision based on facts and evidence, which is legally sufficient.