The effort to locate hunt for 11 missing Marines and guardsmen in a UH-60 Black Hawk that crashed off the coast of Florida Tuesday night remains was still a search-and-rescue operation and has not transitioned into a recovery missionand had not transitioned into a recovery mission as of 3 p.m. Wednesday, according to an Army general.
"Eglin Air Force Base has incident command posts set up," he said. "The leadership there will make that determination that we will transition to recovery."
Both pilots in the downed helo were highly qualified instructor pilots, Curtis said, and the entire four-man Black Hawk crew had several thousand hours of flight time in the aircraft.
Three of the four guardsmen in the downed aircraft had assisted in the Katrina recovery effort, Curtis said.
Part of a wheel assembly of what could be the wreckage of a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter sits on Riviera Beach March 11 in Navarre, Fla.
Photo Credit: Jennie McKeon/AP
Curtis did not rule out weather as a cause of the crash, but emphasized the crew's experience in handling the spectrum of weather patterns. Pilot training in the Black Hawk requires flying into an actual or simulated fog bank and using the aircraft's controls to navigate safely out, he said,
"I'm not a pilot so I'll speak from a novice standpoint, but [the guardsmen] are very cognizant of weather conditions before they depart on a mission," he said. "But you can depart from one station and hit weather you didn't expect."
A second Black Hawk that was participating in Tuesday night's mission had taken off from Eglin, but quickly returned to base due to weather concerns, he said.
Families and next-of-kin of the four guardsmen had been notified of the crash by 7 a.m. Wednesday today, Curtis said, even though emergency personnel continued to treat the situation as a search-and-rescue.
A spokesman for Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command, Capt. Barry Morris, said Corps officials the Marines were in the process of notifying the next-of-kin of the seven MARSOC troops who were had been aboard the helo chopper and expected that process to be complete by this evening.
"Eglin Air Force Base has incident command posts set up. The leadership there will make that determination that we will transition to recovery," Curtis said.
While Curtis said the current priority was rescuing of the troops involved in the crash, he said a safety board inspection would be conducted by the Army's Aviation Center, out of Fort Rucker, Alabama. The center will make the final determination about the cause of the crash, he said.
Curtis said he had heard from President Obama and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who both expressed their condolences and offered their support as rescue operations continue.