Five US Army “Night Stalkers” of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) lost their lives in a helicopter refueling accident over the eastern Mediterranean Sea, as reported by defense officials on Sunday. This incident is being handled with heightened sensitivity by U.S. officials due to its occurrence amidst heightened tensions in the Gaza region, which the Biden administration is striving to contain.
According to two anonymous U.S. officials, the troops were deployed in the region as part of the Pentagon’s contingency plans related to the Gaza conflict. This includes preparing for possible evacuation operations of American citizens from Israel and Lebanon. The helicopter, identified as an MH-60, a version of the Black Hawk used by the 160th SOAR, crashed near the southeastern coast of Cyprus. This information was corroborated by one official and notices issued to aviators during the search-and-rescue operation, which has since concluded.
The U.S. European Command, responsible for military operations in the area, initially reported the incident without specifying the military branch or aircraft type involved. The New York Times later revealed the identities of the service members. The report also clarified that the crash occurred during a routine training exercise and was not due to hostile activity. EUCOM officials, in a statement to The Washington Post, confirmed that the crash resulted from a refueling mishap during standard training, adding that more details would be disclosed after the service members’ next of kin had been informed, a process to be completed within 24 hours.