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17 Missing in Marine Copter CrashOff Japan

May 07, 1985|From Times Wire Services

TOKYO — A U.S. Marine helicopter with 17 people aboard crashed in the ocean off southern Japan Monday, disappearing with only an oil slick left behind, American officials said.

The CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter was headed for Okinawa when it reported mechanical problems and turned back toward Iwakuni, a Marine installation in southwest Japan. Another Sea Stallion reportedly traveling the same route turned back a few minutes later to search but spotted only the oil slick.

U.S. and Japanese patrol ships and aircraft searched the area, about 15 miles south-southwest of the island of Yakushima, but officials said they failed to find any survivors. About six miles south of the crash site, the Japanese coast guard did recover debris that might have been from the chopper.

The Sea Stallion, which officials said is similar to the Marine helicopter that takes President Reagan from the White House to Camp David, usually carries a three-man crew and is capable of holding up to 38 people. Marine spokesmen said that when traveling over water it is normally equipped with inflatable life rafts.

The missing helicopter was attached to the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing of the 36th Marine Air Group at Camp Butler in Okinawa, and all of the missing are believed to be Marines.

A Washington spokesman said that relatives of nine of them had been notified by late Monday. The nine were identified as:

Master Sgt. John Nicholas Gruber, 38, of Aptos, Calif.; Lance Cpl. Andrew G. Bunn, 23, of Phoenix, Ariz.; Sgt. James M. Lizana, 25, of Pass Christian, Miss.; Staff Sgt. Paul M. Mello, 31, of Somerset, Mass.; Cpl. Robert J. Murray, 22, of Ferndale, Mich.; Sgt. Richard A. Piper, 26, of St. Louis; Capt. Jeffrey H. Tuset, 26, of St. Paul, Minn.; Lance Cpl. Thomas J. Agnew Jr., 21, of Villanova, Pa., and 1st Lt. James R. Reese, 27, of Bellmawr, N.J.

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