The Marine Corps has confirmed that divers and salvage crews recovered some of the Marines’ remains from the helicopter crash in January.
It’s unclear what exactly the crews found, but divers and salvage crews continued to search the waters off Haleiwa for the Marines and CH-53E Super Stallion wreckage after the rescue search was called off, according to the Star Advertiser.
“The families have been given the information (about remains recovery),” said Capt. Tim Irish, a Marine Corps spokesman, declining to provide further details.
“We have a very detailed plan in place to handle any of our brother Marines as we retrieve them and then bring them back to their families, wherever they would like, in a dignified fashion,” Irish told the newspaper today in a phone interview.
The recovery efforts are complicated. A debris field was detected on the seafloor approximately 300 feet deep about two miles offshore, the Marines said. Navy diners will assist to perform ocean, harbor and combat/expeditionary salvage operations in up to 300 feet of water, stated Navy Personnel Command.
Equipment will be brought in from Key West, Florida for use on the 255-foot rescue ship Salvor to assist with the Mobile Diving units.
Irish, a spokesman for the Marines, said the divers currently have specialized equipment to dive to deeper depths which includes the ability to mix gases for a deeper dive. Concurrently, divers have been training to acclimate to those depths, he said.
“As I understand the systematic aspect of it, you wouldn’t just want to start diving at 280 (feet) just to discover you are going to have to dive past 300 and need that training and acclimatization gear anyway,” Irish said. “So that was just another piece that had to fall into place.”
A second Navy ship, the 226-foot fleet ocean tug USNS Navajo, also is expected to assist, Irish said.
“Salvage and recovery is being done as efficiently as possible,” he said. It also is being done with “a goal of the aircraft mishap board being able to figure out exactly what did happen and then of course not risking any lives in the effort to conduct salvage and recovery.”
The Coast Guard said the Salvor was to use sonar to locate the aircraft.
“Salvor does have a crane that could pull the aircraft out of the water, but no decision has been made for that operation,” Sarah Burford, a spokeswoman for the Navy’s Military Sealift Command, said in an e-mail on Saturday. “The first step is to get the ship out to the site and to get the wreckage mapped, then a decision will be made as to how the recovery operation will proceed.”
Approximately 80 members of 3rd MEF (III Marine Expeditionary Force) based in Okinawa, Japan, the higher headquarters for Marine Corps Base Hawaii, will be supporting the recovery. They plan on assisting with salvage operations, debris field survey and dive system preparation.
1st Lt. Joseph Butterfield, a spokesman for the command, said about 40 personnel are supporting from MDSU-1; 26 civil mariners make up the crew of the Salvor; and 10 Marines are supporting with shoreline search and investigations.
“We would like to express our gratitude for ongoing support to recovery and salvage operations. We thank everyone for their contributions,” Butterfield said in an e-mail to the Advertiser.
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