ST. PAUL — Three members of the Minnesota National Guard died in a helicopter crash shortly after takeoff south of St. Cloud on Thursday, Dec. 5.

Their names will not be released until their families have been notified, authorities said. The cause of the crash is still being investigated.

In a statement, the state National Guard said the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter took off from St. Cloud about 2 p.m. for a maintenance test flight. Through social media, the Stearns County Sheriff's Office confirmed that it crashed southwest of the city near the town of Marty about 2:15 p.m.

At a press conference in Kimball, Gov. Tim Walz told reporters that military investigators were en route to assist with the investigation. Chief Deputy Dan Miller of the Stearns County Sheriff's Office said his agency would take part in the investigation as well.

Walz, an Army National Guard veteran, appeared saddened as he offered condolences to the victims and their families.

"Words will never ease the pain of this tragic loss, and the state of Minnesota is forever in the debt of these warriors,” he said.

"The coming days will be dark and difficult," he continued.

The Guard said it worked with local law enforcement agencies to determine the status and location of the aircraft. Miller said that word of the crash was reported to the county Sheriff's Office shortly after 2 p.m., leading to the dispatch of local police and firefighters.

The Minnesota State Patrol said on Twitter that it and the Minnesota Aviation Rescue Team assisted in the search for the downed copter. The team is a partnership between the patrol and St. Paul Fire Department.

News of the service member's deaths prompted an outpouring of sympathy from several Minnesota state legislators as well as U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.