Redstone responds to fatal Black Hawk incident

By Marian AccardiMay 24, 2023

First responders honored for help at helicopter crash
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – A makeshift memorial has been set up on the side of Alabama 53 at the site of the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crash on Feb. 15. (Photo Credit: Jonathan Stinson) VIEW ORIGINAL
First responders honored for help at helicopter crash
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Photo by Erin Elise Enyinda

Brig. Gen. Warner Ross II, the adjutant general for the Tennessee National Guard, presents an award to Tony Fuller, director of the Logistics Readiness Center, at a ceremony Monday to recognize first responders who assisted after the Feb. 15, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crash. (Photo Credit: Courtesy)
First responders honored for help at helicopter crash
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Photo by Erin Elise Enyinda

Brig. Gen. Warner Ross II, the adjutant general for the Tennessee National Guard, presents an award recognizing the Redstone Airfield Safety Office to Stormy Ripley, airfield safety-emergency management and property officer, at a ceremony Monday thanking first responders who assisted after the Feb. 15, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crash. (Photo Credit: Courtesy)

The Tennessee Army National Guard recognized and thanked first responders, including several organizations at Redstone Arsenal, on Monday for their efforts in response to a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter incident in Madison County on Feb. 15 that killed two Tennessee Army National Guard pilots.

The aviators were assigned to A Company, 1-230th Assault Helicopter Battalion, from Nashville’s Berry Field Air National Guard Base. A safety investigation team from the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, headquartered at Fort Novosel, formerly known as Fort Rucker, leads the safety investigation.

The ceremony was held at the Madison County 911 Center.

Brig. Gen. Warner Ross II, the adjutant general for the Tennessee National Guard for only 20 days when the crash occurred, said that on behalf of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, the citizens of Tennessee and the Soldiers and airmen of the Tennessee National Guard, “this is our opportunity to say thank you to this community. Thank you for your actions and your efforts to assist our team and our fallen aviators in a very dark and trying time.”

He said that about 24 different agencies responded in some manner, in addition to other departments, elected officials and churches.

“I’ll never pass through this county again without thinking of the wonderful people that were here that helped our team on a tragic day,” Ross said.

Organizations at Redstone recognized and receiving awards at the ceremony were DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center; DEVCOM AvMC Prototype Integration Facility; Redstone Airfield; Redstone Airfield Safety Office; Aviation and Missile Command Safety Office; Logistics Readiness Center; Fox Army Health Center; Redstone Arsenal emergency services, including Redstone gate guards, police and fire.

“Redstone Army Airfield Flight Base Operations received a call from Huntsville International Airport about a downed aircraft, requesting help to identify who the UH-60 Black Hawk tail number belonged to,” said Stormy Ripley, airfield aviation safety-emergency management at Redstone Airfield, who outlined the Redstone organization’s efforts before the ceremony.

Flight Base Ops was able to identify the organization, according to Ripley. A tail number is a unique identification number on the exterior of an aircraft and used in the flight plan.

Ripley said that the Redstone airfield staff, from that point on, assisted as needed by talking with the aviation safety manager at the Prototype Integration Facility and Government Flight Representative Chief Warrant Officer 4 Amanda Collins, who had contact with the Tennessee National Guard and crash site emergency responders.

Ripley said that after the fatalities were confirmed, the Army Combat Readiness Center, also known as the Army Safety Center, was notified.

A request from Collins for a truck with a lift and boxes to help move parts from the crash site to the PIF hangar at Redstone airfield was passed on by the airfield staff to Logistic Readiness Center Director Tony Fuller, according to Ripley. Also, a request to assist with convoy movement through Gate 9 to the airfield with trucked-in aircraft and parts was coordinated through Brian Reinwald, physical security chief for the Garrison.

Ripley said Collins was the liaison of communication between the crash site and Redstone aviation organizations for assistance and between the Tennessee National Guard unit for information to the airfield staff.

PIF provided hangar space for the aircraft and its parts from the accident and for the Army safety investigation team working at the airfield, according to Ripley.

The LRC provided supplies, equipment and three contract personnel to assist at the crash site, according to Fuller, with supplies and equipment including large multiwall boxes to collect debris and a 40-foot box truck with a lift to transport the boxes of parts and debris of the damaged aircraft.

He said LRC personnel assisted in recovery operations at the site and transporting the damaged aircraft and parts to Redstone Airfield.

“The LRC team response to provide assistance was quick and helped preserve evidence from weather that was moving in on the day the aircraft was moved,” according to Fuller.

According to Ripley, guards at Gate 9 provided the on-call cell phone number of the shift supervisor to the airfield staff who assisted the movement team from Gate 9 to the airfield.

“This assistance occurred on both the aircraft movement to Redstone and later, its departure on trucks,” Ripley said.

Ripley noted that Redstone Police Chief Jim Lamm notified his on-shift supervisors of the aircraft movement from Gate 9 to the airfield, and they were on standby to assist as needed.

Fox Army Health Center provided the initial personal protective equipment for those handling aircraft parts in the hangar until the recovery team and investigation team could buy their own equipment, according to Ripley.

“This protected handlers from composite material hazards, which are present on aircraft” that have burned and broken apart, she said.

Assistant Fire Chief Robert Simmons said he responded to the scene of the crash and served as the Redstone Arsenal liaison to the incident commander at the site. Randall Rushing, aviation safety manager/officer with the AMCOM Safety Office, also went to the crash site and facilitated getting investigators from Fort Novosel there.

Other agencies recognized at the ceremony included Madison County and the Sheriff’s Office, Berryhill Funeral Home and Madison County Coroner Tyler Berryhill, Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, Alabama Department of Transportation, Madison County Fire Dispatch, Monrovia, Toney and Harvest volunteer fire departments, Huntsville Fire & Rescue, Huntsville-Madison County Rescue Squad, Refuge Church and Huntsville Emergency Medical Services Inc.

During the ceremony, Alabama House District 6 Rep. Andy Whitt read a resolution passed by both houses of the Alabama Legislature honoring the memory of the aviators for their “impeccable character and limitless courage.”

On behalf of the state of Alabama, the legislature and Gov. Kay Ivey, Whitt said, “we have instructed and encouraged the state Department of Transportation to coordinate and designate a portion of Alabama 53 at mile marker 327.9 as the Chief Warrant Officer Danny Randolph and Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Wadham Memorial Mile” and to fabricate signs for northbound and southbound lanes.