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Army: Helicopter on snowmobile trail was on training run

Staff Writer
Published: 3/15/2019 12:15:28 AM

WORTHINGTON — New details have emerged about the Tuesday crash between a U.S. Army helicopter and a snowmobile in Worthington that left a local man badly injured.

In an email from the Fort Drum Army base in New York, a spokeswoman said the helicopter was in Worthington as part of a routine training flight and that the landing had been pre-coordinated so that the helicopter could wait until the sun went down, after which the five-person crew would fly it back to Fort Drum utilizing night vision goggles.

The helicopter, a Sikorsky HH-60M, the medical evacuation (medevac) version of the Black Hawk helicopter, is part of the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, based out of Fort Drum.

The critically injured snowmobiler, Jeff Smith, 44, of Worthington, was taken to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. His condition has been upgraded to stable, a hospital spokeswoman said on Thursday.

Tina LaCroix, secretary of the Worthington Snowmobile Club, said Smith was riding on a snowmobile trail that had been maintained by the club for decades when the crash occurred, and that the helicopter was parked on the trail.

The crash occurred in a field that was formerly used as a private airstrip and is now the property of Don Chase, of Chase Enterprises Corp., in Northampton. Efforts to reach Chase were unsuccessful Wednesday and Thursday.

Diane Magargal, who with her husband, Steven, owns Listons Bar & Grill, said that the former airstrip contains a snowmobile trail that is maintained by the Worthington Snowmobile Club and is open to the public.

LaCroix said the trail had been a part of “the main corridor for decades.” She also said that the main corridor is wide, capable of accommodating six snowmobiles side by side.

Although she didn’t see the crash and wasn’t on the scene in its aftermath, LaCroix was adamant that Smith had been riding on the trail, noting that he is an experienced snowmobiler.

She also said she had heard from multiple sources that the helicopter had landed on the trail.

Worthington Selectboard Chairman Charley Rose said that the helicopter was parked on the property’s runway, which the snowmobile trail also runs on.

The Fort Drum spokeswoman, Julie Halpin, said none of the crew members was injured in the crash, although the stabilator, in the rear of the helicopter, was damaged. She said crew members gave medical assistance to Smith.

Halpin said the crash is being investigated by the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade Safety Office.

“We would like to commend the incredible emergency response to help the injured individual, including the Worthington Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department, Hilltown Community Ambulance, Lifestar 3, the Huntington Police Department, the Massachusetts State Police and the Massachusetts Environmental Police,” Halpin said in the email.

Massachusetts Environmental Police are also investigating the crash.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet. com.

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