Underwater search for missing Marine helicopters in Hawaii begins
FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii — Two Navy ships and a Coast Guard cutter have begun actively using remotely operated underwater vehicles to search for the wrecks of two Marine Corps helicopters that crashed off Oahu’s North Shore late Thursday night.
Search efforts had focused solely on finding and rescuing the 12 Marines who were aboard the helicopters for routine nighttime training. No survivors or bodies had been found as of late Tuesday morning.
By Monday, searchers from the Coast Guard, Navy, Army, National Guard and local emergency response agencies had recovered all four life rafts that had been aboard the helicopters.
There were no signs that the life rafts had been used, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle, a spokesperson for the Coast Guard in Hawaii.
The fourth raft was recovered late Monday near Kahuku on the North Shore, a Marine statement said. Kahuku is about 15 miles from where the two heavy lift CH-53E Super Stallion aircraft are believed to have crashed.
The search for survivors continues, but the new mission to locate the missing helicopters is a shift from the intensely focused effort to use all boats and aircraft in the search for survivors.
Searching for the helicopters are the Navy’s destroyer USS Paul Hamilton and its salvage ship the USS Salvor, Molle said. The Coast Guard’s 87-foot patrol boat Ahi also is involved in that search, she said.
As of 8 p.m. Monday night, 115 searches of the North Shore waters had been completed, Molle said. Searchers have covered 36,000 square miles in overlapping searches.
The Coast Guard has specific protocols about how long to continue active rescue searchers, said Capt. James D. Jenkins, commander of the 14th Coast Guard District in Hawaii.
There is a vetting process “to make sure we get it right,” he said Sunday during a news conference. “We’ll make that decision in conjunction with the Marine Corps, and we’ll use information collected by all of these resources on scene. Every day we’re analyzing what we’ve done. Then we analyze the likelihood of any survivors, and we’ll continue our efforts as long as is needed using that decision-making protocol.”
Jenkins said the families of the missing Marines will be notified when the search has ended before a public announcement is made.
“We err on the side of caution because the last thing that anybody wants is to suspend the search when there’s still a possibility of finding somebody,” Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers said Tuesday, adding people had been found alive days and even weeks after being lost at sea.
Temperatures have been dipping into the low 60s on the North Shore, and the wind chill factor makes it even colder.
Marine Capt. Timothy Irish said Monday that aircrews wear personal flotation devices with their flight suits and get additional training on top of survival swimming training.
The missing Marines are assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463, Marine Aircraft Group 24, 1st Marine Airlift Wing at Marine Corps Base Hawaii on Oahu and were conducting routine training.
The missing Marines were identified as Maj. Shawn M. Campbell, 41, College Station, Texas; Capt. Brian T. Kennedy, 31, Philadelphia, Pa.; Capt. Kevin T. Roche, 30, St. Louis, Mo.; Capt. Steven R. Torbert, 29, Florence, Ala.; Sgt. Dillon J. Semolina, 24, Chaska, Minn.; Sgt. Adam C. Schoeller, 25, Gardners, Pa.; Sgt. Jeffrey A. Sempler, 22, Woodruff, S.C.; Sgt. William J. Turner, 25, Florala, Ala.; Cpl. Matthew R. Drown, 23, Spring, Texas; Cpl. Thomas J. Jardas, 22, Fort Myers, Fla.; Cpl. Christopher J. Orlando, 23, Hingham, Mass., and Lance Cpl. Ty L. Hart, 21, Aumsville, Ore.
The CH53-E is the U.S. military’s largest, heaviest and most powerful helicopter capable of carrying massive loads including a 26,000 pound light armored vehicle. Irish said only the six-person aircrews were aboard the helicopters when they crashed.
While the helicopters are not equipped with crash-survivable beacons, like a commercial jet would have, they do have flight recorders, or black boxes, that the search-and-rescue teams hopes to locate, Mooers said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.