Updated:April 6, 2022
The United States Army is investigating whether a crash involving two Black Hawk helicopters at a Georgia airfield last month was carried out intentionally by a medevac pilot.
Capt. James Bellew, 26 was on medevac duty on March 30 at the Wright Army Airfield, a dual use airport between Fort Stewart and the City of Hinesville in Georgia, when two HH-60 Black Hawk helicopters crashed into each other at around 2 a.m.
He was found dead the next morning at the site of the crash.
Bellew was the ‘only crewmember involved in the incident, and he was the only one injured or killed in the incident,’ Col. Lindsey Elder, a spokesperson for the 3rd Infantry Division, told the Army Times.
All of the other crewmembers were asleep at the time of the crash, Elder noted.
An unnamed source told the Army Times that the crash was ‘not an accident.’
It remains unclear how he was able to start at least one of the helicopters without waking the crew or otherwise alert those who may have been at the field, like emergency medical services personnel or air traffic control staff.
The service’s Criminal Investigation Division is now probing the crash, Elder said, and a safety investigation team from the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center is also involved.
The CID’s involvement indicates criminal involvement, as Army regulations would normally see the Combat Readiness Center leading routine accent probes. It would only defer to the CID, the Army Times reports, if the incident in question were believed to be ‘the result of a criminal act.’
The investigation comes after several theories about the crash abounded on social media, claiming that the aircrafts were intentionally destroyed.
But, Elder said: ‘At this point, we cannot address the manner of the damage to the two aircrafts, timeline of events, or the response from the tower and emergency services, as those details are still considered part of the active investigation.
‘No further information will be released at this time to protect the integrity of the ongoing investigation.’
Bellew, of Charlottesville, Virginia, entered the Army in 2017 through the University of Virginia’s ROTC program, and completed a tour in South Korea as a medical service officer before being selected for the medevac pilot program in 2019.
He had been stationed at Fort Stewart, where medevac pilots train at the nearby Wright Army Airfield, since March 2020, and had served as a platoon leader in his company, according to Military.com.
Among his daily duties were moving critically ill COVID patients to off-post medical facilities.
During his time in the service, Bellew received an Army Achievement Medal, the Expert Field Medical Badge and the Army Aviator Badge, in addition to other service awards and ribbons.
His former subordinates remember him as a compassionate, strong leader, the Army Times reports, with tributes pouring in on social media.
The University of Virginia ROTC program posted on March 31 that Bellew’s’ contributions to the US Army and his selfless dedication to the profession will forever be remembered by the brothers and sisters with whom he served,’ and Luis B. Blanchard wrote that he trained with Bellew.
‘He learned how to hover in probably two days and always put me to shame when it came to flying,’ Blanchard recounted. ‘He was a great class leader and phenomenal person. My prayers go out to his family.’
Bellow’s brigade commander also described him as a top officer in his unit.
‘The loss of James is an immeasurable tragedy to his family, friends, crew and fellow soldiers,’ Col. Eric Vanek said in a statement, highlighting Bellew’s medevac role as ‘one of the noblest professions imaginable … a role where he was constantly helping, and saving the lives of others.’