NICOSIA – Five crew members of the U.S. Army Special Operations forces dispatched to Cyprus during Israel’s war with Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip died in a helicopter crash off the island, American officials said.
They were crew members of an MH-60 Black Hawk helicopter that was on a refueling training mission when the helicopter plunged into the sea, said the New York Times, citing sources not named.
The Pentagon had quietly sent commando teams to Cyprus from the Joint Special Operations Command, including the Army’s Delta Force and the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, to stand by in case Americans need to be evacuated.
The commandos are also trained in hostage rescue operations and Hamas is believed holding almost 240 seized in Oct. 7 raids into Israel in which more than 1,400 people were slaughtered by the terrorists.
Nine Americans are missing although it’s not been said if, or how many, were among hostages from a number of countries taken into Gaza and believed hidden in secret tunnels in the Palestinian enclave.
The US has indicated it has no plans to go into Gaza where Israeli forces are trying to root out Hamas terrorists hiding among civilians, Israel rejecting calls for a ceasefire or even talks until they are released.
The helicopter crew members who died were members of the Army’s elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as the Night Stalkers, who escort commandos on secret missions, the newspaper said.
An American aircraft carrier, the Gerald R. Ford, is also operating in the eastern Mediterranean off the coast of Israel, in what the US said is a deterrent to Iran pushing proxies to widen the war.
The military’s European Command acknowledged the deaths of the five service members in what it said was “a routine air refueling mission,” but released no other information about the crash, the crew or its unit.
Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said in a statement that “We mourn the tragic loss of five U.S. service members during a training accident in the Mediterranean Sea.”
President Biden, noting that it was Veterans Day weekend, said: “Our service members put their lives on the line for our country every day. They willingly take risks to keep the American people safe and secure.”