Military aircraft collide in Hawaii; search on for survivors

Posted at 7:51 AM, Jan 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-16 06:22:36-05

Rescuers fought rough weather as they looked for 12 Marines who went missing after two military helicopters apparently collided.

“It is very difficult to find things right now,” Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Scott Carr said. “Our goal is to find survivors.”

The two CH-53 copters appear to have gone down during a training flight off the Hawaii island of Oahu late Thursday, authorities said. No mayday call was received, just word that something had gone wrong, Carr said.

A civilian on the beach first told authorities of seeing a fireball, followed by a second person reporting a flare.

Massive search

Marine officials contacted the Coast Guard about the missing aircraft, and it deployed a helicopter.

The Honolulu Emergency Services, the U.S. Navy and the Honolulu Fire Department joined in Friday to look for survivors 7 miles offshore as the weather grew rougher. Swells reached 16 feet, surf rose to 40 feet and visibility extended to only one mile, the Coast Guard said.

Warships, cutters, rescue boats, helicopters and a search plane plowed winds and waves.

Reported missing

Six people were on board each of the two heavy-lift transport helicopters when they apparently crashed.

Loved ones have identified to CNN three Marines missing, and CNN affiliates have reported on two more missing Marines.

Anthony Kuenzel of Missouri told CNN that his brother-in-law, Capt. Kevin Roche, is among them. The family described him as a passionate Marine and thanked people praying for him.

“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,” Roche’s family said in a statement.

Maj. Shawn Campbell, 41 was in the collision, said his mother, Donna McGrew, of Houston. A Marine officer visited her at home to brief her. Campbell has a wife and four children, and has done three tours of duty in the Middle East.

“My heart just breaks, there are 11 other families going through this now. God bless them,” McGrew said.

Another Texan, Cpl. Matthew Drown, was on board one of the helicopters and is missing, his brother, Sean Drown, told CNN.

Cpl. Drown, 23, has been in the Marines for five years, and joined shortly after high school.

CNN affiliate WFXT reported that one Marine from Hingham, Massachusetts, went missing in the chopper exercise. And CNN affiliate KATU reported that a Stayton, Oregon, man was among the missing.

Surfers beware

Searchers spotted a fire and debris field, including an empty life raft, about 2½ miles north of Haleiwa Beach and later floating pieces of debris consistent with military aircraft.

The search area is a popular surfing destination, and surfers should avoid any debris in the water.

“We are urging people to stay out of the water and off the beaches due to debris that could pose potential risk and cause serious bodily harm,” Lt. Carr said.

The missing aircraft are assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463, Marine Aircraft Group 24, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, the Marines tweeted.

According to the unit’s website, it is stationed at Marine Corps Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay, on the opposite side of the island from where the apparent collision occurred.

The Marine Corps is investigating the cause of the accident.