HONOLULU — The ongoing search for 12 Marines who are missing after two helicopters crashed off Hawaii entered the third day with no plans Sunday morning to call off or suspend the massive effort, the Coast Guard said.
"We are dedicated to trying to locate and bring back these service members and we will continue our efforts throughout the day," Coast Guard. Capt. James Jenkins, chief of staff of the 14th Coast Guard District, told reporters during a Sunday press conference.
The Coast Guard will work with the Marine Corps to determine how long they will continue searching for survivors, Jenkins said. The families will be notified if they decide to shift search and rescue efforts to that of a recovery mission.
The Coast Guard is closely monitoring ocean current and drifting patterns, Jenkins said. So far, some debris has been found that is consistent with the CH-53E heavy-lift helicopters that went down late Thursday during a nighttime training mission.
Photos released by the Marine Corps Saturday show infantrymen with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines searching the coastline for debris in Haleiwa on the northwest side of Oahu. The Marines and other search parties have been combing the whole north point of the island to determine the field of dispersion of the debris, Jenkins said.
Brig. Gen. Russell Sanborn, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing's commanding general, said during the press conference that the CH-53Es were likely not equipped with the types of beacons found aboard civilian aircraft.
Sanborn, a career aviator, said his wife once received the news that he was missing in action after he was shot down during Desert Storm. They understand the "emotional roller coaster" the families are on, he said. They want the families of the missing Marines to know they are there for them, he added.
While high surf complicated the mission for rescuers on the water, a green laser off Haleiwa Beach Park on Saturday night struck a Coast Guard plane, forcing crew members to alter search patterns, Jenkins said.
The captain reminded locals that pointing lasers at aircraft is a federal crime, and if caught, they could face serious charges. The crew of the HC-130 plane wasn't exposed and didn't have to land, but they changed their search pattern to avoid being hit again.
The Coast Guard reminded the public that targeting a laser at an aircraft is illegal and could result in fine of $11,000 per violation.
Rescuers have been searching round-the-clock since the Coast Guard was notified late Thursday of the crash by a civilian who saw the aircraft flying and then disappear and a fireball.
A search vessel cruises the waters off the beach at Haleiwa, Hawaii, Jan. 15, 2016. Two Marine helicopters carrying 12 crew members collided off the island of Oahu during a nighttime training mission, and rescuers are searching a debris field in choppy waters, military officials said.
Photo Credit: Audrey McAvoy/AP
The Marines were alerted when the CH-53E helicopters carrying six crew members each failed to return to their base at Kaneohe Bay the training mission. Hours later, a Coast Guard helicopter and C-130 airplane spotted debris 2 1/2 miles off of Oahu.
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 Coast Guard initially reported that the choppers had collided, but Marine Capt. Timothy Irish said Friday that he did not know if the accident was a collision.
"We think they collided because both of them went down," Mario Vittone, a retired Coast Guardsman who is an expert on sea survival, said Sunday from Florida.
It would have happened very quickly and survival would entail overcoming many factors. "You have to survive the crash, you have to survive the on-rushing of water," he said, adding they would then have to battle dehydration and exposure to the elements.
A high surf warning for Oahu's north and west shores was extended until noon Sunday. Waves of up to 30 feet were expected to subside to advisory levels Sunday afternoon.
Marines walk on the beach at Waimea Bay near Haleiwa, Hawaii, where two military helicopters crashed into the ocean about 2 miles offshore, Jan. 15, 2016.
Photo Credit: Mariana Keller via AP Photo
It's difficult to spot anything in breaking waves, said Vittone, who was a helicopter swimmer and marineaccident investigator with the Coast Guard. "It almost like camouflages everything."
The crash was off the north shore, but the search area was expanded to include waters off Oahu's west coaston Saturday.
Expanding the search area lowers the probability of detection, Vittone said.
The Coast Guard uses what's called the Probability of Survival Decision Aid to gauge survival time he said, explaining that they factor in air temperature, water temperature, sea conditions and humidity, along with details about the victims.
"They use age and weight and sex and what they were wearing, along what gear they have on," Vittone said.
Rescuers will continue to search "as long as there's probable cause that they have something to find," said Coast Guard spokeswoman Tara Molle. As of Sunday morning, there were no plans to call off or suspend the search, she said.
The U.S. Marines Corps released the names of the 12 missing crew members late Saturday. Though based in Hawaii, the Marines were from various states.
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 missing crew members are:
- 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, Alabama.
- Sgt. Dillon J. Semolina, 24, Chaska, Minnesota.
- Sgt. Adam C. Schoeller, 25, Gardners, Pennsylvania.
- Sgt. Jeffrey A. Sempler, 22, Woodruff, South Carolina.
- Sgt. William J. Turner, 25, Florala, Alabama.
- Cpl. Matthew R. Drown, 23, Spring, Texas.
- Cpl. Thomas J. Jardas, 22, Fort Myers, Florida.
- Cpl. Christopher J. Orlando, 23, Hingham, Massachusetts.
- Lance Cpl. Ty L. Hart, 21, Aumsville, Oregon.