CLOVIS, N.M. - Three service members assigned to a special operations unit were killed after a single-engine reconnaissance and surveillance plane crashed in eastern New Mexico during a training flight, the Air Force said.
Officials at Cannon Air Force Base said the U-28A crashed Tuesday night in a field about a quarter mile east of Clovis Municipal Airport, about 3 miles east of Cannon. The plane was assigned to Cannon.
The identities of the victims will be withheld until 24 hours after the families are notified, Cannon officials said in a statement.
The cause of the crash is under investigation, and base commander Col. Ben Maitre said during a news conference Wednesday that it would be premature to speculate. He said there was no indication of any problems with the plane before the crash, and weather reports for the area suggested clear skies.
"Right now, we're working to secure all of the data from the wreckage and the documentation that went into the preparation and conduct of that sortie," Maitre said.
Investigators also are reviewing maintenance records for the plane. Maitre described the U-28A as reliable, saying that type of aircraft is used thousands of hours a year and that crew members fly hundreds of hours annually to maintain their proficiency with the plane and its systems.
Capt. Brandon Baccam, chief spokesman for the wing, said the crew was assigned to the 318th Special Operations Squadron, part of the 27th Special Operations Wing based a Cannon.
The wing's units use several types of aircraft to perform missions that include personnel transport, combat support, aerial refueling of helicopters, close air support and drone operations.
Officials said use of the Clovis airport was part of the training mission, but additional information on the mission and circumstances of the crash itself were not immediately available.
The crash caused a fire that was extinguished by local firefighters, officials said. Two large pieces of the aircraft, including the tail section, were visible Wednesday morning at the crash scene.
"We are deeply saddened by this loss within our Air Commando family," Maitre said. "Our sympathies are with the loved ones and friends affected by this tragedy, and our team is focused on supporting them during this difficult time."
Cannon has about 5,800 military personnel and civilian employees. It has been several years since the base has had a fatal crash, Maitre said.
The last deadly crash involving a U-28A occurred in Africa in 2012 as the plane was returning from an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission for the war in Afghanistan. Four airmen were killed.
An Air Force fact sheet says the U-28A is used for tactical airborne intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance in support of special operations forces. The plane typically has a four-member crew of two pilots, a combat systems officer and a tactical systems officer.
According to the fact sheet, the U-28A "evolved from commercially available aircraft that were purchased and then modified with communications gear, aircraft survivability equipment, electro-optical sensors, and advanced navigation systems."
============ CLOVIS, NM - Cannon Air Force Base officials confirmed Wednesday morning that the three airmen on board a U-28A plane were killed when it crashed Tuesday night.
The crash occurred approximately one quarter-mile east of Clovis Municipal Airport. In response to the deadly crash, the air force base released the following statement:
“We are deeply saddened by this loss within our Air Commando family,” said Col. Ben Maitre, the installation commander. “Our sympathies are with the loved ones and friends affected by this tragedy."
The fatal crash remains under investigation. Identities of the three airmen will be withheld until 24 hours after next of kin is notified.
Below is the original story published Tuesday night following the crash:
Cannon Air Force Base officials said a flight crashed during a training exercise in a field near Clovis Municipal Airport.
The plane, which officials said was a U-28A plane and had three people on board, crashed around 6:50 p.m. local time on Tuesday.
The crash caused a fire that emergency personnel extinguished by 8:00 p.m., a spokesperson for Cannon AFB said.
"Names of the aircrew will not be released until confirmation of their status and next of kin have been notified," a Cannon AFB official told EverythingLubbock.com.
The cause of the plane crash remained under investigation.
Pilatus U-28A (PC-12)
|Owner/operator:||US Air Force (USAF)|
|C/n / msn:|| |
|Fatalities:||Fatalities: 3 / Occupants: 3|
|Airplane damage:||Written off (damaged beyond repair)|
|Location:||ENE of Cannon AFB (KCVS), Clovis, NM - United States of America|
|Departure airport:||Cannon AFB (KCVS)|
|Cannon AFB (KCVS)|
While practicing touch-and-go landings, the aircraft impacted the terrain in Curry County east-northeast of Cannon Air Force Base (KCVS) in Clovis, New Mexico, and a small fire ensued. The airplane sustained apparent substantial damage. All three crew members died in the crash of the plane.
The U-28A provides a manned fixed wing, on-call/surge capability for Improved Tactical Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) in support of Special Operations Forces.
The diverse Special Operations Command mission requirements generated a need for small numbers of mission specific aircraft which were procured rapidly to address specific mission needs. The Non-Standard Aircraft (NSAv) fleet is a general program term and encompasses several light and medium aircraft performing utility missions for SOCOM. Overall the NSAv mobility fleet untethers special operations forces from robust infrastructures, extended timelines and allows freedom of movement.
The U-28A is part of AFSOC's NSAv fleet, and is operated by the 319th, 34th and 318th Special Operations squadrons. Training is conducted by the 5th and 19th SOS. These units are located at Hurlburt Field, Fla. and Cannon AFB, N.M.
The U-28A provides a manned fixed wing, on-call/surge capability for improved tactical airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) in support of special operations forces.
The diverse Special Operations Command mission requirements generated a need for small numbers of mission-specific aircraft which were procured rapidly to address specific mission needs. The U-28A is a modified, single-engine Pilatus PC-12 that operates worldwide.
The U-28A is part of AFSOC’s Light Tactical Fixed Wing fleet, formerly known as non-standard aviation.
The initial block of U-28 aircraft were procured and modified for use in operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.
All U-28A aircraft are maintained through contractor logistics support.
Crew: 2 Pilots, 1 Combat Systems Officer, 1 Tactical Systems Officer
Builder: Pilatus Aircraft Ltd
Power Plant: Pratt-Whitney PT6A-67B
Thrust: 1,200 horse power
Wingspan: 53 feet 3 inches (16.23 meters)
Length: 47 feet 3 inches (14.4 meters)
Height: 14 feet (4.25 meters)
Speed: 220 knots
Range: 1,500 nautical miles
Ceiling: 30,000 feet
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 10,935 lbs
Deployment Date: 2006
Unit Cost: $16.5 million
Inventory: Active duty, 28; Reserve/ANG, 0