National Guard helicopter crashes at Texas-Mexico border, killing 3

by Tommy Grant

LA GRULLA, Texas — A helicopter flying over the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas crashed Friday, killing two National Guard soldiers and a Border Patrol agent, the military said. Another soldier on board was injured.

The UH-72 Lakota helicopter was assigned to the federal government’s border security mission when it went down near Rio Grande City, according to a statement released by Joint Task Force-North, the command overseeing the mission. The cause was under investigation.

The crash happened mid-afternoon Friday while the helicopter was conducting aviation operations, according to the statement. No other details were provided.

Starr County Judge Eloy Vera, the county’s top official, said those on board included one woman and three men. He said the person who was injured was in critical condition.

The names of those killed were not immediately released. Command spokesperson Maj. Ryan Wierzbicki said the military casualties will not be publicly identified “until the next of kin have been notified.”

Border Patrol spokespersons did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

The site of the crash is in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. The Starr County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook on Friday that it was assisting with a “downed helicopter incident” on the east side of the county.

Vera said the scene had been secured by the sheriff’s office and that federal officials were on the way.

The border region is heavily patrolled by both state and federal authorities, including routine aerial surveillance. Federally controlled National Guard soldiers have assisted such efforts off-and-on for decades. The current mission there began during the Trump administration and has continued amid large volumes of migrant encounters.

Friday’s crash marks the third time a National Guard helicopter has gone down since Feb. 12.

The Army National Guard’s top officer temporarily grounded all Guard flight crews last month after a pair of Apache crashes in Mississippi and Utah killed two service members and injured two more.

Other aviation mishaps have occurred at the border, though not under the auspices of the federal military mission there.

In January, a Texas Department of Public Safety helicopter patrolling the state’s border with Mexico lost power and crashed, officials said at the time. The co-pilot suffered a minor hand injury and the helicopter was significantly damaged.

That helicopter was flying as part of Operation Lone Star, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s nearly $10 billion border mission that has tested the federal government’s authority over immigration.

Davis Winkie covers the Army for Military Times. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill, and served five years in the Army Guard. His investigations earned the Society of Professional Journalists’ 2023 Sunshine Award and consecutive Military Reporters and Editors honors, among others. Davis was also a 2022 Livingston Awards finalist.

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