A routine nighttime training mission in an army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter ended in tragedy as the helicopter crashed over waters off Florida. Seven marines and four soldiers were reported missing from the crash at around 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Debris from the crash were discovered by the search-and-rescue teams at around 2 a.m. on Wednesday.
The night training, which was held at the Eglin Air Force Base located in Valparaiso, Florida, around 45 miles east of Pensacola, involved two helicopters. The second chopper was, however, safe from the crash.
The seven marines are part of a special operations group that is based at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, while the four soldiers came from a National Guard unit, with its headquarters located in Hammond, Louisiana.
Andy Bourland, a spokesman for the Air Force Base, said that search and rescue efforts are still underway. The crash site is a remote swath of beach that is nestled between Destin and Pensacola. Owned by the military, the beach is often used for test missions.
Bourland confirmed that on Wednesday, almost two hours past midnight, all of the helicopter's 11 personnel had gone missing.
"At this time all are missing," said Bourlan. "This is a search and rescue. We have not declared the status of the 11 personnel on board at this time."
A Pentagon official, however, claims that the said personnel are presumed dead since rescuers have reportedly discovered human remains during what was deemed a difficult search operation.
While it is still unclear what could have caused the crash, Bourland noted that some weather issues were seen overnight.
The beach, which has been under military control even before World War II, includes a training area of pristine beachfront that stretches for 20 miles. Military police had been guarding the place closely, following reports that some private vendors use the place without permission to paddle boards or rent jet skis.
Glenn Barndollar, a test range manager, said that the beach provides a suitable training location meant for special operations units of all military branches. Training can be done over the water, in the bay and on the beach.
One type of training involves the challenge to the trainees of making their way onshore after being dropped over the water from helicopters or boats.
"Names of the aircrew and Marines on board are being withheld pending next of kin notification," stated officials. "The accident is under investigation. Additional details will be provided as they become available."
Photo: U.S. Navy I Flickr