Search continues after US military helicopters crash off Hawaii
Published 16/01/2016 | 17:26
A search is continuing for 12 people after two US Marine Corps helicopters crashed off the Hawaiian island of Oahu during a night-time training mission.
The transport helicopters, known as CH-53Es, crashed late on Thursday, officials said. They were carrying six people each.
A US Coast Guard helicopter and C-130 plane spotted debris two and a half miles offshore during a subsequent search, with the wreckage strewn over a two-mile area.
The helicopters were part of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Known as Super Stallions, they are the US military's largest helicopter, capable of carrying a light armoured vehicle, 16 tonnes of cargo or a team of combat-equipped Marines.
Elaray Navarro, a retiree who lives across the street from the beach, said she heard two "booms" that were loud enough to shake her house. She expressed concern for the crew as she watched the pounding surf from Haleiwa.
"I pray to the man upstairs to help them. To bring them home safely," she said.
The Coast Guard was notified of the crash by a civilian on a beach who saw the aircraft flying then disappear, before a fireball erupted. Another person reported a flare in the sky.
The Marines were alerted when the helicopters failed to return to their base at Kaneohe Bay as scheduled, Marine Capt Timothy Irish said.
The Coast Guard initially reported that the helicopters had collided, but Capt Irish said it was not clear what happened.
The helicopters normally carry four crew members, but this particular flight also carried one or two instructor trainers, Capt Irish said. He did not know if they were teaching the crew or just observing.
The search included Air Force units as well as a Honolulu Fire Department rescue boat and Coast Guard cutters.
Two Navy ships were also participating with a Navy squadron of SH-60 helicopters.
Rough weather is making the search difficult, with winds blowing up to 23mph and breaking surf up to 30ft.
"That is moving that debris all over the place," Capt Carr said. "It makes finding things incredibly difficult."