Authorities searching the area where two Marine helicopters crashed off Hawaii have found some life rafts that were carried aboard the aircraft, but still no sign of the 12 crew members who were on board.
Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Sara Mooers said Jan. 18 she believes three life rafts have been recovered so far. Some were inflated, but it was unclear how they came to be inflated, she said.
There is no indication that anyone was aboard the rafts, based on their condition and the lack of any personal effects, she said.
The search for the Marines entered its fourth day Jan. 18, with plans to search into the night. Conditions have improved since the start of the search, with much smaller swells expected Jan. 18.
Rescuers from various agencies have been searching since the Coast Guard was notified late Jan. 14 of the crash by a civilian who saw the aircraft flying and then disappear and a fireball.
The Marines were alerted when the CH-53E helicopters carrying six crew members each failed to return to their base at Kaneohe Bay following a nighttime training mission. Hours later, a Coast Guard helicopter and C-130 airplane spotted debris 2 1/2 miles off of Oahu.
The crash was near the north shore, but the search area spans from the western coast of Oahu to the northeast corner of the island. At this point, it’s still a search for survivors, Mooers said.
The Coast Guard assumes the best-case scenario when considering how long someone in the right equipment and right conditions could survive, she said.
“We err on the side of caution because the last thing that anybody wants is to suspend the search when there’s still a possibility of finding somebody,” she said.
Marine Capt. Timothy Irish said Jan. 18 that aircrews wear personal flotation devices with their flight suits and get additional training on top of survival swimming training. There are various ways that life rafts could be inflated, including a cord being pulled by debris, he said.
Mooers said people have been founds days or even weeks after they’ve been at sea.
Survival would entail overcoming many factors, including surviving the crash, being overwhelmed by water, and then facing dehydration and exposure, said Mario Vittone, a retired Coast Guardsman who is an expert on sea survival.
The transport helicopters were part of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Known as Super Stallions, they are the U.S. military’s largest helicopter, capable of carrying a light armored vehicle, 16 tons of cargo or a team of combat-equipped Marines, according to a Marine Corps website.
The wing’s commanding general, Brig. Gen. Russell Sanborn, told reporters Sunday he has personal experience with the “emotional roller coaster” families of the 12 Marines are experiencing.
His wife went through similar emotions when he was shot down 25 years ago during Operation Desert Storm and was listed as missing in action, he said.
Some family members were holding out hope that survivors could be found, while asking for privacy as they waited for updates.
“My husband and I want everyone to know that this is not about us,” Donna McGrew, mother of Maj. Shawn Campbell of College Station, Texas, said in a statement. “This is about the families that are suffering, and about all the sacrifices that our military members and their families make on a daily basis.”
The Coast Guard initially reported that the choppers had collided, but Irish said Friday that he did not know if the accident was a collision. The cause remained under investigation.
Mooers said the helicopters carry flight data recorders known as black boxes, but they have not been recovered.
Details about 12 Marines missing in Hawaii helicopter crash
The U.S. Marine Corps has released the names of 12 Marines missing after two helicopters crashed off Hawaii. Here are their stories:
Maj. Shawn M. Campbell, 41, College Station, Texas
Maj. Shawn M. Campbell’s mother, Donna McGrew, describes the father of four as a “great dad whose kids love him and he’s wonderful husband.”
Campbell attended high school in suburban Houston and then graduated from Texas A&M University with a degree in microbiology.
In a family statement, McGrew said her son accepted a commission following his graduation and became a career Marine. She told the Houston Chronicle that Campbell served three tours in Middle East, the last in Iraq. He returned to the U.S. to be a flying instructor at Pensacola, Florida, and had transferred to Hawaii about two years ago.
He and his wife, Kelli, and their children, have been living near the Marine base at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
“`My husband and I want everyone to know that this is not about us,” McGrew said in the statement. “This is about the families that are suffering, and about all the sacrifices that our military members and their families make on a daily basis.”
Cpl. Matthew R. Drown, 33, Spring, Texas
Matthew R. Drown joined the Marines shortly after graduating from a suburban Houston high school in 2011.
His family issued a statement asking for privacy to “deal with the very difficult situation,” adding that they have to remain hopeful of his rescue for his sake and others on the downed aircraft.
Drown’s former high school English teacher, Yvette Stuckey, told the Houston Chronicle she remembered Drown as a shy freshmen, but that he came out of his shell as he grew, eventually participating in debate tournaments.
His speech and debate teacher, Angie Richard, recalled him as “very happy, always smiling” and showing a confidence in public speaking “unusual among high school kids.”
Stuckey said she was “shocked but so excited” when Drown told her his plans to enlist after graduation, adding that he was “really excited to follow and serve his country.”
Sgt. Dillon J. Semolina, 24, Chaska, Minn.
The uncle of Minnesota native Sgt. Dillon J. Semolina said the 24-year-old wants to be a Registered Nurse when he leaves the Marines.
“He was waiting to hear from a school he had applied to and was hoping to hear next week,” said his uncle, Ryan Bachand.
Semolina is an impressive young man, respectful and positive, Bachand said. He had been a good football player at Delano, Minn., high school.
The family still holds out hope that he and others missing will be found alive, Bachand said.
But as hopes have dimmed, Bachand said he would cherish memories of spending time with Semolina when Bachand was a fishing guide in northern Minnesota. “I was able to teach him how to fish,” he said.
A GoFundMe page to raise money to send Semolina’s parents to Hawaii to be near where Semolina went missing had raised nearly $10,000 from 226 people by late Saturday.
Cpl. Christopher Orlando, 23, Hingham, Mass.
Orlando’s family said in a statement released Saturday by the Massachusetts State Police that they are thankful to everyone for their love, concern and prayers. Orlando is a flight crew chief and a 2010 high school graduate from Hingham, outside Boston. His family said they are monitoring the search effort and are thankful for the hard work of search and rescue crews.
Before Orlando joined the Marines, he was a counselor at a surf camp in Hull, Mass., and is a “camp legend,” the South Shore Surf Camp said in a Facebook post. “He is mentally and physically strong with the ocean experience and skills needed to survive anything Mother Nature can throw at him.”
Capt. Kevin Roche, 30, St. Louis
The family of Capt. Kevin Roche, 30, praised rescuers for trying to find him and the other Marines aboard the helicopters.
“We believe the Marines and Coast Guard are doing everything they can to bring Kevin and his fellow Marines home safely, and we are grateful to everyone involved in the rescue,” said a family statement distributed by brother-in-law Anthony Kuenzel in St. Louis.
Lance Cpl. Ty L. Hart, 21, Aumsville, Ore.
The Oregonian newspaper reports that 21-year-old Ty Hart, from Stayton, Oregon, lives on base in Hawaii with his wife.
Family friend Christina Brown described Hart as upbeat and energetic and said he enjoys nature, boating and wakeboarding.
Hart’s former high school football coach and teacher, Alan Kirby, told the newspaper that Hart was a positive kid who always had a smile on his face and called him a quick learner on the gridiron.
The official list of the missing Marines is:
- Maj. Shawn M. Campbell, 41, College Station, Texas.
- Capt. Brian T. Kennedy, 31, Philadelphia
- Capt. Kevin T. Roche, 30, St. Louis
- Capt. Steven R. Torbert, 29, Florence, Ala.
- Sgt. Dillon J. Semolina, 24,Chaska, Minn.
- Sgt. Adam C. Schoeller, 25, Gardners, Penn.
- Sgt. Jeffrey A. Sempler, 22, Woodruff, S.C.
- Sgt. William J. Turner, 25, Florala, Ala.
- Cpl. Matthew R. Drown, 23, Spring, Texas.
- Cpl. Thomas J. Jardas, 22, Fort Myers, Fla.
- Cpl. Christopher J. Orlando, 23, Hingham, Mass.
- Lance Cpl. Ty L. Hart, 21, Aumsville, Ore.