By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD - Post officials reassured residents Wednesday that the training device that fell from an Army helicopter into a Killeen neighborhood the night before was not a live missile.
"Fort Hood aircraft never, never, never fly with live ordnances off the installation," Col. Howard Arey, III Corps chief of aviation, said during a news conference.
"It was an inert device, and it was never intended to the leave the aircraft," Arey said, referring to the 100-pound Hellfire missile simulator that dropped into an empty field at Trimmer Road and Aquarius Drive, just behind Trimmer Estates. "Certainly, everyone was relieved it did fall in an open field."
Arey said Fort Hood officials were investigating the cause of the malfunction, which occurred during a routine 21st Cavalry Brigade training mission just after 7 p.m. Tuesday. In the meantime, training would resume, he said.
A large hole remained in the ground Wednesday, where the M36 training device landed and embedded. Although it lacked a warhead or propulsion system, the device looked like a missile, Arey said, causing the Killeen Police Department to alert residents.
Carroll Smith, spokesperson for the police department, said about 100 people were evacuated temporarily in the immediate neighborhood Tuesday night.
Although life returned to normal in Trimmer Estates Wednesday, resident Lativia Hawkins, 20, said the incident caused initial worry. "I'm pretty sure I'll forget about it, but it was scary last night," she said.
Hawkins was putting her 1-year-old daughter to bed when a police officer came to the door. "He said, 'A missile fell off a helicopter 100 feet behind your house.'"
Hawkins thought the officer was joking because she'd neither heard nor seen anything unusual, she recalled, but he encouraged her to leave her home and walk west, away from the device.
Although Hawkins chose not to evacuate her home after talking with her father, a retired soldier who assured her there was no immediate danger, other neighbors remained down the street until a police officer signaled it was safe to return to their homes.
Arey said the device dropped from an UH-64 Apache helicopter when Fort Hood's Directorate of Emergency Services was notified by a resident, possibly a soldier, that something had fallen from the sky.
Unaware that anything had happened, the Apache pilot immediately was ordered to return to Robert Gray Army Airfield, Arey added.
Police officers responded to the scene first, but directorate staff and Fort Hood Ordnance Disposal team members were dispatched to the area to dislodge and dispose of the device.
Col. Benton Danner, III Corps public affairs officer, said post officials were researching historical precedents for the incident. Anecdotally, he added, longtime Fort Hood aviators said they could not remember any.
Contact Colleen Flaherty at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHFortHood.