12 Marines Missing After Helicopters Crash Off Oahu

Jan 15, 2016

Credit U.S. Marine Corps

A search and rescue mission is underway on O‘ahu’s North Shore after 2 Marine Corps helicopters crashed Thursday evening during a routine training exercise off Hale‘iwa.

Rough water conditions and low visibility is hampering search efforts by the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Navy and local agencies.
Credit Honolulu City and County Department of Ocean Safety

The Coast Guard Sector Honolulu received notification of two downed CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters Thursday evening at 11:38 p.m. each with six personnel aboard.  Officials confirmed all 12 people are still missing.

Local fire and rescue teams are working with military groups from the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard to search a broad area. Coast Guard Lt. Scott Carr says crews are searching for survivors in a debris field located about seven miles offshore and have set up a safety zone from Ka‘ena Point to Kahuku Point. “The coast guard has seen debris that is consistent with a military aircraft,” said Carr who emphasized that no pieces have yet to be recovering. “It’s been in various shapes and sizes. It’s not like you’re just seeing one thing out there, you’re seeing a lot from small pieces to good-sized pieces.”

The U.S. Coast Guard says the field of debris stretches from Kaena Point to Turtle Bay.
Credit Google Maps

Carr says the search is complicated by a high surf warning, with waves of up to 40 feet. “That is moving that debris all over the place. It makes finding things incredibly difficult,” said Carr. “With the white caps that are there and the big swells, it’s very difficult to find things right now.”

U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Melissa McKenzie says big waves and strong currents combined with low visibility are making the search for survivors more difficult. “We have poor visibility right now,” said McKenzie. “I think our visibility is only up to about a mile.” McKenzie said on-scene conditions included 30 to 40 foot surf, 16 foot swells, and 17-24 mph winds. “So all those things are factors.”

Coast Guard Lt. Scott Carr says the search and rescue mission involves multiple agencies, including the U.S. Navy and the Honolulu Fire Department, who are working together to find the 12 missing marines. “Our men and women train for this. They’re exceptional at what they do,” said Carr. “Everybody’s putting every available resource they have to try and find survivors from this accident.”

Marine Corps Captain Timothy Irish
Credit Molly Solomon

Marine Corps Captain Timothy Irish says there are resources and counseling services available for Marines and families of those who are missing. “They do have someone in constant contact with them,” said Irish who said Building 216 was offering emergency crisis counseling at Marine Corps Base Hawai‘i.

The City and County of Honolulu announced that Hale‘iwa Ali‘i Beach Park will be closed to public for the next couple days as the search continues. The U.S. Coast Guard is advising the public to stay out of the water on the North Shore. Anyone who comes across debris is asked not to touch it and instead call the Marine Corps at (808) 257-8458 or (808) 257-3023.