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12 missing after two US Marine helicopters crash in mid-air

The wreckage was strewn over a two-mile area.

A search vessel cruises the waters off the beach at Haleiwa, Hawaii.
A search vessel cruises the waters off the beach at Haleiwa, Hawaii.
Image: AP Photo

RESCUERS CONTINUE TO search choppy waters where debris was sighted after two Marine Corps helicopters carrying six crew members each crashed off the Hawaiian island of Oahu during a nighttime training mission, military officials said.

There was no immediate word on the fate of those aboard or what caused the accident. The transport helicopters known as CH-53Es crashed late on Thursday, officials said.

Hours later, a Coast Guard helicopter and C-130 airplane spotted debris two and a half miles offshore. The wreckage was strewn over a two-mile area, Marine Captain Timothy Irish said.

The choppers were part of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Known as Super Stallions, they are the US 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.

Elaray Navarro, a retiree who lives across the street from the beach, said she heard two booms late on Thursday that were loud enough to shake her house.

“I threw my blanket off, put my slippers on and ran outside thinking it was a car accident,” she said.

She expressed concern for the crew as she watched the pounding surf from Haleiwa.

“I pray to the man upstairs to help them. To bring them home safely,” she said.

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The Coast Guard was notified of the crash by a civilian on a beach who saw the aircraft flying then disappear and a fireball. Another person reported a flare in the sky, Coast Guard spokesman Lieutenant Scott Carr said.

It was not clear if the fireball and the flare were the same, he said.

The Marines were alerted when the helicopters failed to return to their base at Kaneohe Bay as scheduled, Irish said.

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.

PastedImage-94858 US Marines walk on the beach at Waimea Bay near Haleiwa, Hawaii, where two military helicopters crashed into the ocean about two miles offshore. Source: AP Photo

The helicopters normally carry four crew members, but this particular flight also carried one or two instructor trainers, Irish said. He did not know if they were teaching the crew or just observing.

The search included Air Force units as well as a Honolulu Fire Department rescue boat and Coast Guard cutters.

Two Navy ships, the USS John Paul Jones and the USS Gridley, were also participating with a Navy squadron of SH-60 helicopters.

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