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Tragic training accident claims life of Libby soldier

by Western News
| October 27, 2009 12:00 AM

Army Staff Sgt. James R. Stright was killed Thursday during a special operations training exercise off the coast of Virginia, military officials said.

Stright, 29, was aboard a Black Hawk helicopter that crashed on a Navy ship. He represented the lone fatality connected with the incident. Eight others suffered injuries not considered to be life-threatening.

A statement out of Fort Bragg, N.C., said Stright was assigned to Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), headquartered at Hunter Army Airfield, Ga.

The son of Robert and Kathy Stright of Libby, he graduated from Libby High School in 1998 and served in the Army for more than a decade. Stright had been with the regiment for more than five years, officials said.

According to military sources, service members were rappelling down a rope from the helicopter to the USNS Arctic on Thursday evening when the copter crashed into the ship's stern. The helicopter ended up on its side and a small fire on the ship's deck was quickly extinguished.

“We deeply regret that it occurred, but unfortunately, it is part of the business we do at sea," Rear Adm. Mark H. Buzby said during a news conference at Naval Station Norfolk.

Sources said that the training exercise included two Army helicopters and members of a Naval Special Warfare unit.

“It was a routine visit, board, search and seizure exercise that takes place between Army and Navy units on a fairly regular basis,” said Buzby, who serves as commander of the Military Sealift Command.

Buzby said one of the purposes of such exercises is to train service members on how to quickly board a ship that might be threatened by pirates or terrorists. The Arctic was used because of its similarity to merchant ships.

The cause of the crash is under investigation.