Helicopter crashes along U.S.-Mexico border, killing three

A helicopter carrying a Border Patrol agent and three National Guard members crashed along the U.S.-Mexico border in South Texas on Friday afternoon, killing three and badly injuring a fourth person.

Two victims were identified Sunday as members of the New York State National Guard. John Grassia III, 30, was a chief warrant officer and New York State trooper, and Casey Frankoski, 28, was a National Guard chief warrant officer. U.S. Border Patrol agent Chris Luna also died, federal officials confirmed.

The Department of Defense Joint Task Force North said in a statement that a fourth soldier was injured in the crash that occurred just before 3 p.m. on Friday near Rio Grande City. That soldier, who was identified by The Times Union as Jacob Pratt, was badly injured and remains hospitalized, according to a Sunday press release from the New York Army National Guard.

The Fort Bliss-based agency said that the UH-72 Lakota helicopter was conducting operations as part of the federal Southwest border support mission when it went down. On Friday evening, the Starr County Sheriff's Office posted on Facebook that its deputies were assisting with a downed helicopter on the east side of the county.

The Department of Defense said the helicopter was not associated with Operation Lone Star, the state’s border enforcement mission that is utilizing National Guard members. The agents had been deployed to Texas in October 2023 to support a federal military mission.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not immediately answer questions sent by The Texas Tribune. In a statement on Sunday, the agency said they were heartbroken by the crash.

"We will forever honor Chris’s service, and we will never forget his and family’s tremendous sacrifice," the statement said.

Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas also released a statement on Sunday.

“Every single day, our Border Patrol Agents place themselves in harm’s way so that the rest of us can be safe and secure," Mayorkas said. "My thoughts, and the deepest condolences of our Department, are with Agent Luna’s family, loved ones, and colleagues, and with those of the National Guardsmen who lost their lives. We hope for the injured service member's swift recovery, and hold our National Guard colleagues and their families in our thoughts as well.”

The cause of the accident is under investigation.

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