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National Guard helicopter crashes in Chatham

Posted Friday, May 6, 2005

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The two-seat AH-64 Apache helicopter was on a routine training mission when it failed to return to RDU, said Sgt. Brian Christiansen, spokesman for the North Carolina National Guard. The National Guard lost communications with the plane about 8 p.m., according to Capt. Matt Handley, another Guard spokesman.

The AH-64A Apache attack helicopter went down near Buckhorn Dam on the Cape Fear River on the Chatham-Lee county line with its two-man crew at about 8:30 p.m., Federal Aviation Administration officials confirmed.

The Chatham County Sheriff's Office told the National Guard that it had found the wreckage of the helicopter late Thursday, Guard spokesman Sgt. Brian Christiansen said.

Christiansen said officials had lost contact with the helicopter carrying two crew members in central North Carolina. He said a Guard recovery team was heading to the crash site, about 35 miles southwest of Raleigh.

The helicopter, which was not carrying weapons, left Morrisville Thursday evening, Christiansen said. As of 10 p.m., Christiansen said authorities had not heard from the crew for about an hour. Christiansen did not know if that was considered an inordinate amount of time.

Christiansen said he did not know where the helicopter was heading.

Authorities established a command post at the Lee County Boat Ramp and were using all-terrain vehicles to search the wooded area near the crash site late Thursday in a rescue and recovery effort.

Rescue efforts were hampered by rain, darkness and confusion as to where the craft might have gone down.

Authorities in Lee and Chatham counties led the wide-ranging search, which led to the discovery of the downed craft about 10:30 p.m. Power lines were down on both sides of the Cape Fear River near Buckhorn Dam.

A North Carolina State Highway Patrol helicopter and another National Guard helicopter and National Guardsmen on the ground participated in the effort.

The downed helicopter didn't have an emergency locating transponder on board, making the search for the wreckage more difficult, authorities said.

High-tension power lines were brought down with the helicopter, leaving about 5,400 electricity customers without power Thursday night, authorities said.

WRAL-TV in Raleigh reported that one crew member was killed.

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