SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — On Oct. 29, 1992, at 8:46 p.m., four MH-60G Pave Hawk choppers took off from Hill Air Force Base (HAFB), heading into torrential rains, lightning, and heavy cloud cover on their way to Michael Army Airfield in Tooele.
Only three of those choppers made it to base.
One Florida man made it his mission to restore the memorial to these 12 soldiers. Click to read his story.
Around 13 miles away from HAFB, one of the helicopters crashed 100 yards off the northeast corner of Antelope Island with 13 men onboard at 9:15 p.m. Around an hour later, search and rescue crews found a single survivor. Rain, lightning, and strong winds hampered the search all night long, forcing responders to stop at around 4 a.m., waiting for the sun to come up and for the weather to break. As reported at the time by Deseret News, crews continued searching until 11 a.m., when the last bodies were located.
A source who later spoke anonymously to the Associated Press said some bodies were pushed by the tide and winds into deeper waters. Clusters of bodies were spotted from the air and recovered by crews in boats, the source said.
Found dead were a total of five U.S. Army Rangers, including:
- Sgt. Blaine A. Mishak
- Col. John T. Keneally
- Lt. Col. Kenneth W. Stauss
- 1st Sgt. Harvey L. Moore Jr.
- Spc. Jeremy B. Bird
Also found dead were three U.S. Air Force helicopter crew members and four U.S. Air Force Combat Controllers, including:
- Lt. Col. Roland E. Peixotto Jr.
- SSgt. Steven W. Kelley
- Sgt. Philip A. Kesler
- SFI Airman Derek C. Hughes
- Cpt. Michael L. Nazionale
- Sgt. Mark G. Lee
- TSgt. Marck Scholl
Found alive was the pilot, Air Force Maj. Stephan J. Laushine, then 27 years old. Laushine was assigned to the 55th Special Operations Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Laushine suffered cuts on his right leg and over his left eye, in addition to some minor fractures. He also suffered from hypothermia from being in the lake for so long.
It took rescuers an hour to paddle Laushine to shore in inflatable Army Ranger kayaks before he was airlifted to a local hospital. He was listed in “fair condition” by the following morning.
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The men were based in Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. Deseret reported the men were part of a joint mobility and readiness exercise of the U.S. Special Operations Command. The Pave Hawk came from Elgin Air Force Base near Ft. Walton Beach, Fla. Their chopper was armed at the time of the exercise. Its primary wartime mission was combat rescue, infiltration, and resupply.
Deseret would later report in 1993 that the crew of the Pave Hawk had not been told by HAFB’s control tower they were flying into hazardous conditions.
“The report, written by a team of military investigators, doesn’t specifically blame anyone or anything for the fatal accident,” stated the article. “Federal privacy laws prevent the disclosure of any disciplinary action that may have been taken, the Air Force said.”
An Air Force report stated the four helicopters were having trouble staying in formation due to poor visibility. Laushine told investigators he “was unsure of what was happening in the flight and experienced a spatial illusion due to the movement of the aircraft ahead of him.”
One of the other Pave Hawks was also about to crash into the water but was saved as other helicopters yelled at him through the radio to pull back up. Laushine, however, decided at the last moment to try to return to base, according to the report. He did not tell any of the other pilots of his decision.
The last thing Laushine reported seeing was that his altimeter only showed the aircraft at 35 feet. Then, as he tried to pull up, it crashed.
Laushine is not expected to attend this weekend’s memorial service.