Dec. 5 (UPI) -- A Minnesota National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed Thursday, killing all three service members on board, Gov. Tim Walz said.
Officials lost contact with the aircraft at 2:05 p.m. after the pilot made a mayday call shortly after takeoff during a maintenance test flight, the Minnesota National Gaurd said. Authorities searched for the helicopter for hours before scanner traffic indicated a Minnesota State Patrol trooper found it around 4 p.m. near Pearl Lake.
Walz announced that the three guardsmen had died and offered the state's "deepest sympathies to the families" of the victims, during a press conference. He added the victims' identities would be withheld until next of kin has been notified.
"They paid the ultimate price in service to Minnesota and the United States of America," Walz said. "Words will never ease the pain of the tragic loss and the state of Minnesota is forever in the debt of these warriors."
Investigators from the Army Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., have been dispatched and were expected to arrive Friday to begin a "comprehensive investigation," he said.
The Stearns County Sheriff's Office said it would be aiding in the investigation.
Brig. Gen. Sandy Best did not reveal the purpose of the doomed flight, saying that information was part of the ongoing investigation.
Reading a statement from Minnesota National Guard Adjutant General Jon Jensen, Best said the service was "devastated" and its top priority was to ensure that "our families are taken care of."
Walz, a veteran of Minnesota National Guard and the state's Commander and Chief, said his "heart breaks" for the friends and families of the victims and the coming days will be dark and difficult but Minnesota will do what it can to help.
"The state of Minnesota stands ready to assist the families of our fallen heroes," he said.
The search for the helicopter began after the Stearns County Sheriff's Office received communication from the National Guard that it had lost communication with the doomed aircraft, dispatching multiple fire and rescue units, said Cheif Deputy Dan Miller.
He said the crash site was located by a State Patrol helicopter some 16 miles southwest of St. Cloud where it had takeoff from.