US army helicopter crash off Florida kills 11

2015-03-13 08:51
A serviceperson collects debris along the beach of what might be the wreckage of an UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter in Navarre. (Tony Giberson, AP)

A serviceperson collects debris along the beach of what might be the wreckage of an UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter in Navarre. (Tony Giberson, AP)

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Florida - Search teams found the wreckage of an Army Black Hawk helicopter that crashed off Florida's Gulf Coast and have recovered the bodies of most of the seven Marines and four soldiers on board, authorities and local media said on Thursday.

A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter plunged into the Santa Rosa Sound along the Florida Panhandle during a training exercise in foggy conditions on Tuesday night. Officials said they had not determined the cause of the crash.

The Louisiana National Guard said on Thursday that two of the soldiers' bodies had been recovered and the other two were likely still in the submersed aircraft.

The remains of the seven Marines also were recovered, the Pensacola News Journal reported, citing the Guard. A Marine spokesperson told Reuters he could not immediately confirm the recovery of the bodies.

Officials at the nearby Eglin Air Force Base were notified of the crash at around 22:00 on Tuesday, said Mark Giuliano, fire chief at the base. A second helicopter in the exercise had turned back due to the weather and was able to land safely.

Sonar equipment helped locate the missing helicopter on Wednesday in the middle of the bay, Giuliano said.

"It was certainly a high-impact crash," he said, adding the helicopter had broken into multiple pieces.

The Marines on board were part of a special operations unit from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. They were conducting training involving "helicopter and boat insertion and extraction" with an experienced Army air crew providing the helicopter support, a Marine Corps spokesperson said.

The soldiers and the helicopter were part of the Louisiana National Guard assigned to an Army unit based in Hammond, Louisiana.

Grieving families have started sharing the names of the dead, whose identities have not yet been released by the military. Among the dead Marines were Marcus Bawol, of Warren, Michigan, and Kerry Kemp, formerly of Port Washington, Wisconsin, local media reported.

Bawol was engaged to be married in October, the Detroit Free Press reported. Kemp was the married father of a baby girl, according to WISN-TV in Milwaukee.

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