Dense Fog Delays Search for 11 Killed in Black Hawk Crash
Dense fog delays search for 11 killed in Black Hawk crash.
NAVARRE, Fla. (CBSMiami/AP) — The usually tranquil beachside enclave which normally provides a respite for soldiers, airmen and Marines became a place of shared grief Wednesday. Dense fog is hampering search-and-rescue operations for a military helicopter that disappeared in the Florida panhandle Tuesday night—and only debris and human remains have been found.
Boats and helicopters searched the waters and beachfront for seven marines and four soldiers presumed to have died after a Black Hawk helicopter crashed in dense fog during a routine training exercise. “My heart is really hurt right now knowing these people were here just on training — knowing they went and left their family members and did not give that goodbye, you know, because they weren’t going off to war,” a tearful Dolly Edwards said. Coast Guard helicopter flies over Santa Rosa Sound near Navarre, Fla., Wednesday March 11, 2015 as search crews and divers look for the crash site of a Army helicopter that went down Tuesday evening with 11 service members aboard.(Photo: Devon Ravine, AP) NAVARRE BEACH, Fla. The 35-year-old wife of a Marine was among hundreds who attended a vigil held at the end of a pier jutting into the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday night.
Combined with the crashing of the Gulf’s waves, it created a somber backdrop to the songs, tears and prayers of the large gathering, which included many with strong ties to the military in a part of Florida that is home to the sprawling Eglin Air Force Base. No official count of the deceased was released Wednesday, and the names of the aircrew and Marines on board were withheld pending notification of their next of kin. Jack Cullen, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Mobile, Alabama, said Thursday would likely bring more dense sea fog and a good chance of rain. Wednesday evening, several hundred people from the Navarre community gathered at the Navarre Beach Pier for prayer and a moment of silence to honor not only those on the helicopter, but also their families and loved ones. “We come to cry with those who are crying tonight…,” Momentum Church Pastor Tim Payne prayed during the vigil. “And to realize a great sacrifice, a great loss.” Heavy fog hampered rescue operations for much of the day, and limited visibility prevented air assets from being deployed until early afternoon.
He said the foggy conditions could stick around through Friday, a common phenomenon this time of year as warmer southern air encounters cold water near land. The helicopter that crashed had a veteran crew from Hammond, Louisiana, that served multiple tours in Iraq and helped humanitarian missions after Gulf Coast hurricanes and the BP oil spill. A spokesman for the Marine Corps’ Special Operations Command told the Associated Press that at the time the helicopter went missing it was being used for “insertion and extraction missions.” In addition to the two helicopters, boat crews were involved in the operation. In the interim, search teams from the Air Force, Coast Guard, Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s office, local fire departments and numerous other agencies combed the shoreline on foot, boats and ATVs. In an “insertion and extraction” scenario, the National Guard soldiers working as the Black Hawk’s flight crew would have picked up the Marines and dropped them off at a target location while operating under time constraints.
Like the Army’s Green Berets and the Navy’s SEALs, they were highly trained to endure grueling conditions and sensitive assignments on land and at sea, from seizing ships to special reconnaissance missions and direct action inside hostile territory. Rick Scott and government leadership, Spaits and other on-scene personnel reiterated throughout the day the operation was a search and rescue mission. In combat they can involve landing a helicopter in a known enemy location where it is especially vulnerable to attack while it stays in one place to drop off or pick up passengers.
The seven Marines missing after the helicopter’s disappearance were assigned to a special operations unit at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, according to a Pentagon official. Glenn Curtis, adjutant general for the Louisiana National Guard, did not rule out weather as a cause of the crash, but emphasized the crew’s experience in handling the spectrum of weather patterns. Military officials said search crews were focused on a 6-mile stretch of the sound. “It sounded like something metal either being hit or falling over, that’s what it sounded like.
Pilot training in the Black Hawk requires flying into an actual or simulated fog bank and using the aircraft’s controls to navigate safely out, he said, “I’m not a pilot so I’ll speak from a novice standpoint, but (the guardsmen) are very cognizant of weather conditions before they depart on a mission,” he said. “But you can depart from one station and hit weather you didn’t expect.” A second Black Hawk that was participating in Tuesday night’s mission had taken off from Eglin, but quickly returned to base due to weather concerns, he said. And there were two booms afterward, similar to what you hear with ordnance booms, but more muffled,” Urr said. “We saw gloves, a uniform with a last name on it,” said Alan Collinsworth, a hotel desk clerk.
While the pilots focus on flying, the crew chiefs handle everything in the body of the aircraft, from performing maintenance to manning machine guns mounted in the doors of the helicopter during combat missions. Baldor in Washington; Jason Dearen in Gainesville, Florida; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Kevin McGill and Stacey Plaisance in Hammond, Louisiana; and Emery P. They were members of the 1-244th Assault Helicopter Battalion based out of Hammond, Louisiana, a unit that has been deployed twice during combat operations in Iraq.
Curtis said both pilots in the downed chopper were highly qualified instructor pilots, and the entire four-man Black Hawk crew had several thousand hours of flight time in the aircraft. Earlier in the day, President Barack Obama expressed his condolences to the families and said he is confident a detailed and thorough investigation will take place, said his spokesman, Josh Earnest. (TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries.
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