The US military was joined by several civilian agencies in the search-and-rescue operations following the crash of a Black Hawk helicopter Tuesday night, which authorities believe caused the death of the 11 servicemen aboard.
Military officials say the chopper was conducting a routine training mission before it went missing on the Florida panhandle coastline at 8:30 pm, but Pentagon insists there in still an operation under way to find the seven marines and the four-member flight crew. Although on Wednesday morning, an official told the press the 11 men were “presumed dead”, Amy Parr, a spokeswoman for the Air Force base, claims they cannot confirm the number of deaths. “It is still an active search and rescue mission,”she said. If the grim scenario proves to be true, then the incident will become the deadliest suchmishap for the U.S. military in recent years.
The search team now includes multiple civilian agencies, which along with the Coast Guard and the Air Force Units comprise a team of over 100 people. The search was hampered by heavy fog that settled in the area on Tuesday night and was still present on Wednesday morning, urging an air search to be called off. The air search is set resume Thursday morning, but only if atmospheric conditions allow it to.
Searchers found aircraft debris Wednesday morning around 2:00 am, around Okaloosa Island near Eglin Air Force Base, followed shortly by what was identified as human remains. This led the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, to express his condolences to the families of the now assumed victims. None were immediately identified, so no names have been released so far.
Amy Parr told the press that an investigation into what caused the crash has already begun. A second UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter returned safely to the base situated 40 miles east of Pensacola, shortly before the incident. The military hasn’t offered very conclusive details about the crash, but Maj. Gen. Glenn H. Curtiscannot rule out weather conditions, since they proved to be bad enough to cause the other chopper to turn back.
The Marine Corps’ Special Operations Command said that the helicopter was carrying unconventional warriors, specialized in “insertion and extraction missions” in a training exercise that also included small boats to get soldiers in and out of a target site. The crew that manned the helicopter included veterans from Hammond, Louisiana, people who had already proven their capabilities after serving in Iraq and helping in the humanitarian missions in the Gulf Coast.
Kim Urr, a 62-year old witness who was working at Navarre Beach campground near the training area at the time of the crash, says what she heard “sounded like something metal either being hit or falling over, that’s what it sounded like. And there were two booms afterward, similar to what you hear with ordnance booms, but more muffled.”
President Obama’s spokesman, Josh Earnest, said that after meeting with the military leaders involved, the president expressed his condolences to the families while assuring them that a just investigation would follow. His statement was shortly followed by a similar one from Defense Secretary Ash Carter. “Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families as the search and rescue continues,” Carter said.