Army Helicopter Crashes in Florida, And 11 Are Presumed Dead, Military Says

Army Helicopter Crashes in Florida, And 11 Are Presumed Dead, Military Says

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Military personnel searched the beach in heavy fog  in Florida for the wreckage of a military helicopter that crashed with 11 Marines and soldiers on board.

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Melissa Nelson-Gabriel/Associated Press




NAVARRE, Fla. — Seven Marines and four soldiers were presumed dead Wednesday, a day after the Army helicopter that was carrying them went down in foggy conditions during a training exercise near Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle.

“All we can say at this time is that some human remains have washed ashore, and we have also recovered some aircraft parts,” an Eglin spokesman, Mike Spaits, said. “Right now, the fog is hampering our cause, and there is an ongoing investigation to determine the cause of the crash.”

”It is a search and recover mission,” Mr. Spaits said. All 11 on the helicopter are presumed dead, a Pentagon official said.

About a dozen airmen wearing fatigues walked shoulder to shoulder down the beach, scanning the sand, The Associated Press reported. Searchers with dogs joined them, along with area law enforcement and rescue crews.

Somewhere offshore, search boats could be heard but not seen through the fog, blasting horns as their crews peered into the water, The A.P. reported.

The Marines were part of a special operations regiment from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, and the four soldiers, the aircrew, were members of the National Guard’s 1-244th Assault Helicopter Battalion out of Hammond, La., an Eglin spokeswoman, Sara Vidoni, said.

They were conducting the training mission at one of the base’s range sites just east of Navarre Beach when the helicopter disappeared at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday night.

Helicopter debris was first spotted at 2 a.m. and continued to wash up on the strip of beach, which is owned by the military, on Wednesday morning.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Marines, soldiers and family members,” Maj. Gen. Joseph L. Osterman, the commander of Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, said in a statement Wednesday morning. He said, “We are working closely with all parties involved to locate our Marines and the Army aircrew as soon as possible.”

A Coast Guard spokesman, Chief Petty Officer Bobby Nash, said officials were using at least two small boats to conduct the search. Local fire departments and officials from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were also assisting, he said.

The helicopter, a Black Hawk, took off from an airport in Destin on Tuesday night, and it joined another Black Hawk as part of the training mission.

The second helicopter returned safely to the base, which is about an hour away from Pensacola, Fla. Ms. Vidoni said that base officials had no more information on the missing personnel, and that they were investigating what might have caused the crash.

Although the authorities have not released the names of anyone on board the helicopter, word of Tuesday’s accident resonated deeply in Jacksonville, N.C., the city just beyond the gates of Camp Lejeune and one with such close ties to the military that the Marine Corps flag flies outside the local mall.

“Whether they die overseas or die in our country, it’s a terrible tragedy,” said Larry Rose, whose family runs a furniture store on Lejeune Boulevard. “I hate it either way.”

Mr. Rose, 57, predicted that people in Jacksonville would grieve privately. At the nearby Nate’s Barber Shop, where military-style haircuts can be had for $5, the owner, Nathaniel James, said he expected widespread sorrow in the coming days.

“That’s going to be tragic around here,” Mr. James said. “This town is the military.”

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