Crews searching for a National Guard helicopter that crashed into Santa Rosa Sound took to the air Wednesday afternoon, after heavy fog in the area partially lifted. The search area for boats, on foot and now aircraft, covers more than 50 square miles.
The crash occurred during a training mission Tuesday night involving two, UH-60 Black Hawks from a National Guard post in Hammond, Louisiana. The Marines were part of a special operations group based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. They were using boats and choppers to practice reaching and leaving a target site. Authorities say debris and human remains washed up onto the beach early Wednesday.
Major Gen. Glenn Curtis, Adjutant General for the Louisiana Army National Guard, indicated the heavy fog could have played a role in the crash.
“There were two helicopters. One of them started to take off, and then realize that the weather was a condition and turned around and came back,” said Curtis. “That helicopter and that crew are safe and sound.”
Curtis said the operation would remain search-and-rescue until further notice; that is, working under the belief that there could be survivors.
“They [chopper pilots] are very cognizant of weather conditions before they depart on a mission,” Curtis said. “So the conditions have to be right for them to take off. Now, what they run into when they’re airborne is a different story.”
The troops involved with the exercise had been at Eglin Air Force Base since Sunday and were scheduled to stay through this weekend. The chopper was reported missing at around 8:30 Tuesday evening. Debris was found around two o’clock Wednesday morning.
The crash scene is inside the Eglin reservation, near a remote stretch of beach that’s used for military test missions.
“The main search area is approximately 17 miles by three miles [51 sq. mi.], the fog this morning did impact the efforts,” said Amy Parr, a spokeswoman at Eglin. “Human remains have washed up on shore, but the number of remains has not been released at this point. The names of the air crew and Marines on board are being withheld at this time.”
About a dozen airmen wearing fatigues – and using what appeared to be portable GPS units -- walked shoulder to shoulder down the foggy beach, looking for any sign of the missing troops. They’re being joined by numerous military and civilian agencies.
If debris is found and suspected to be from the UH-60 crash, Hurlburt Field officials ask that they be notified at (850) 884-7464 extension 4. Anyone witnessing the crash is asked to contact Hurlburt Safety at (510) 847-6731.