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Work Underway To Raise Downed Chopper

(National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Toby Valadie, Louisiana National Guard Public Affairs Office)

Three days after the crash of a Louisiana National Guard helicopter into Santa Rosa Sound, work is underway to recover the aircraft and any crew members remaining inside.

Seven Marines and four soldiers are believed to have been killed when the UH-60 Black Hawk went down during a night-time training mission. Maj. Gen. Joseph Osterman, who commands Marine Corps Special Forces, spoke with reporters Friday at MARSOC command headquarters in North Carolina.

“With all training exercises we do what’s called an operational risk assessment,” said Osterman. “We have to train under all environmental conditions. I don’t know about the conditions down there with the fog moving in and out.”

Osterman says the fog and other conditions may have changed after takeoff, which led to the decision to abort the mission. The other chopper made it back safely. The training in question involved both air and amphibious exercises called “insertion and extraction.”

The teams, said Osterman, had gone through a similar drill in the daytime, just hours before the accident.

Back at Santa Rosa Sound, Mobile-based Resolve Marine Group has been contracted to complete the recovery of the helicopter, which is submerged in about 25 ft. of water.  Sara Vidoni, a spokeswoman at Eglin Air Force Base, where the flights originated, says workers reached the scene around midday.

“They’re expected to take around eight hours, weather pending,” said Vidoni. “The salvage company seems to think that they can work through most weather conditions.”

The aircraft will be brought up and placed on the barge and brought to land. That’s where the Safety Investigation Board, headed by the Army’s Combat Readiness Center out of Fort Rucker, Alabama, will take over. Vidoni says Eglin and Hurlburt Field are standing by to help in any way.

Gov. Rick Scott has directed that all U.S. and state flags across Florida be flown at half-staff and half-mast until sunset next Friday, March 20.

If residents find debris suspected to be from the Black Hawk, they’re asked to call Hurlburt Field at (850) 884-7464 extension 4. Anyone witnessing the crash is asked to contact Hurlburt Safety at 510-847-6731.