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Copter crashes; 1 dead, 3 lost

January 27, 2007|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

SAN DIEGO — A Navy helicopter doing training operations from a ship crashed 50 miles offshore Friday, killing one crew member and leaving three missing long after night fell.

The one sailor found was pulled from the water alive but died a short time later, the Navy said.

Five Navy vessels in the crash area were to continue searching for the other crew members throughout the night by using shipboard spotlights, said Cmdr. Jack Hanzlik, a Navy spokesman. Helicopters and inflatable boats deployed in the afternoon were recalled to the ships after dark.

"It's a sad time whenever we lose shipmates like this, so our hearts and prayers go out to the families," Hanzlik said.

The helicopter, based at Naval Air Station North Island on Coronado, was on a training mission when it crashed about 2:30 p.m. The MH-60S Seahawk was on a mission off the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard near San Clemente Island, southwest of the Camp Pendleton Marine base.

Hanzlik said the helicopter crew had enough time to put out a mayday call before the crash. Navy sailors and Marines who were training with them aboard ship arrived at the crash site within minutes in inflatable boats.

The sailor who was pulled alive from the water died aboard the Bonhomme Richard while receiving medical attention, the Navy said. His name was being withheld until his family could be notified. The names and ranks of the others were also not released.

It was not clear whether mechanical malfunction or pilot error might have contributed to the crash, the Navy said.

An investigation was underway.

Hanzlik said he did not know what type of maneuver the helicopter was performing when it crashed.

"They didn't crash into another aircraft or anything like that," he said.

The Bonhomme Richard carried Marines to Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami.

The ship was training with two other Navy ships, the destroyer Chung-Hoon and the cruiser Chosin. Those ships were also participating in the rescue mission, Hanzlik said.

Two additional vessels, the destroyer Milius and the dock landing ship Rushmore, were deployed to assist with the search.

The MH-60S is a twin-turbine craft based on the UH-60L Black Hawk and the Navy's SH-60B Seahawk, according to the manufacturer, United Technologies Corp.'s Sikorsky Aircraft. It is designed to operate off aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers and frigates, ranging up to 100 nautical miles from the ship.

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