Northern Nevada Guardsmen die in Afghanistan crash
RENO (AP) – Two veteran soldiers from northern Nevada – one from Sparks and one from Fernley – were among five killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, military officials said Monday.
Chief Warrant Officer John M. Flynn, 36, Sparks, and Sgt. Patrick D. Stewart, 35, Fernley, both were in Company D, 113th Aviation Unit of the Nevada Army National Guard based in Stead.
The five soldiers, including two from Oregon and one from Arizona, died when the CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed Sunday morning near Daychopan district in the rugged, mountainous, southern Zabul province, according to the military.
“There is no indication at this time that this is a result of hostile fire,” U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Jerry O’Hara said.
Flynn, a pilot and instructor, joined the Nevada Guard in 1988. Stewart, a repair technician who had been in the Nevada Guard for 11 years, also served in Desert Storm, military officials said.
“When something like this happens, it hits right at home,” Brig. Gen. Randall Sayre told reporters Monday at the Stead base north of Reno.
“It’s not just a byline in the newspaper. It’s not somebody from someplace else. It’s one of our own,” he said.
Lt. Col. Bob Harington said it is “a very personal matter for everyone in our guard community.”
“The guard is a family of soldiers, if you will,” he said.
“We tend to stay in units for a long time. I would say the majority of the unit has known at least one of them for a number of years,” he said.
O’Hara said the chopper was part of a convoy of aircraft in the area and other pilots did not see it come under fire.
“We are just taking a hard look at this investigation to see exactly what did cause the crash. It could be mechanical (failure),” he said.
Capt. April Conway of the Nevada Army National Guard said she first heard of the incident when a guardsman’s mother called her at 7 a.m. After several calls to the unit headquarters in Afghanistan, state officials confirmed the deaths about 11 a.m., she said.
“We had a difficult time reaching them, because of an information blackout imposed when there are casualties,” she said.
Gov. Kenny Guinn expressed his sympathy.
“I am very saddened to learn of the death of our Nevada soldiers today in Afghanistan,” he said Sunday.
“Losing any members of the Nevada National Guard is tragic, but having two members killed in one incident is even more so. Nevada’s own have served with great distinction in Afghanistan and Iraq, and most recently in service to the victims of hurricane Katrina.”
The deaths bring to 195 the number of U.S. military service members killed in and around Afghanistan since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001, including 79 this year during an upsurge in violence that has left some 1,300 people dead since March.
Daychopan is about 180 miles southwest of the capital, Kabul, and has been the scene of some of the fiercest fighting with Taliban rebels.
Purported Taliban spokesman Mullah Latif Hakimi called the Associated Press and claimed rebels had shot down the helicopter, though he offered no evidence to back up his claim.
“Our men were standing on top of a mountain when the helicopter passed and we shot it,” he said.
Information from Hakimi in the past has sometimes proven exaggerated or untrue and his exact tie to the Taliban leadership cannot be verified independently.