A Black Hawk helicopter arrives to the scene after a NATO helicopter crashed, killing 27-year-old Chief Warrant Officer Jarett Yoder and 34-year-old Chief Warrant Officer Matthew Ruffner in a field near Gerakhel, eastern Afghanistan, on Tuesday. (Rahmat Gul / AP)
FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. — The two Americans who died in a helicopter crash during a reconnaissance mission in eastern Afghanistan were pilots with the Pennsylvania National Guard, a Guard spokesman said Wednesday.
They were Chief Warrant Officer Jarett Yoder, 27, of Mohnton, and Chief Warrant Officer Matthew Ruffner, 34, of Harrisburg, an instructor. Both belonged to a Guard unit based at Fort Indiantown Gap in central Pennsylvania.
Staff Sgt. Matt Jones, a Guard spokesman, said Yoder and Ruffner were alone in the Apache helicopter when it crashed Tuesday.
The cause has not been determined, Jones said. U.S. military sources in Afghanistan said initial reporting indicated there had not been enemy activity in the area of the crash at the time.
Yoder previously did a tour in Iraq with a Kutztown-based infantry unit, then applied to become a pilot. He was married about a month before he deployed in August, Jones said.
Ruffner was a veteran of about 15 years, and joined the aviation operation in about 2005, Jones said.
Some 1,500 Pennsylvania guardsmen are deployed in Kuwait and about 500 in Afghanistan, mostly with various aviation units. Thirty-nine have died in action in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001, but Yoder and Ruffner are the first pilots.
A local official described the crash site as a farm field, and a teacher who lives in a nearby village said he heard a loud explosion and then saw the burning Apache as it plunged to the ground.