Fog Lifts, Search for Helicopter Crash Victims Continues
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AP) - Crews searching for a military helicopter that crashed just off the Florida coast have taken to the air now that the fog is beginning to lift.
A helicopter was flying low over the Santa Rosa Sound this afternoon, looking for any sign of the helicopter that crashed or any of the 11 Marines and soldiers that were aboard when it went down.
Human remains and pieces of wreckage have washed ashore. The military members are presumed dead.
The dense fog has hampered the search. It was also foggy when the helicopter disappeared Tuesday night, but it's not clear if the weather had anything to do with the crash.
Kim Urr, 62, who works at the Navarre Beach campground near where the helicopter went down, said she heard a strange sound followed by two explosions around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday.
"It sounded like something metal either being hit or falling over, that's what it sounded like. And there were two booms afterward, similar to what you hear with ordnance booms, but more muffled," Urr said.
President Barack Obama spoke with the military leaders involved and expressed his condolences to the families before saying he's confident of a detailed and thorough investigation, said his spokesman, Josh Earnest.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families as the search and rescue continues," Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Capitol Hill.
Despite the presumption of death, the military still called it a rescue mission Wednesday, said Sara Vidoni, a spokeswoman for Eglin Air Force Base, outside Pensacola.
The Black Hawk crashed as Marines and National Guardsmen practiced "insertion and extraction missions," using small boats and helicopters to get troops into and out of a target site, said Capt. Barry Morris, spokesman for the Marine Corps Special Operations Command at Camp Lejeune.
Fog had reduced visibility to less than two miles at the time, according to the National Weather Service, and it remained so heavy Wednesday morning that search boats just offshore could be heard but not seen, blasting horns as their crews peered into the choppy water.
About a dozen airmen wearing fatigues walked shoulder-to-shoulder down the beach, scanning the sand, while civilian rescue crews and searchers with dogs joined the effort.
The Coast Guard said debris was first spotted about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday, and that the search area later expanded to a 17-mile stretch of the narrow sound separating Santa Rosa Island from the Florida Panhandle mainland.
The Marines were part of a special operations group based in Camp Lejeune. The National Guard soldiers were from a unit based in Hammond, Louisiana. They had arrived Sunday for a week of training.
None were immediately identified so that families could be told first.
The helicopter left an airport in nearby Destin to join other aircraft in the training area, which includes 20 miles of pristine beachfront under military control since before World War II.
It's an ideal site where special operations units from across the military can practice over the water and on the beach, test range manager Glenn Barndollar told The AP last year.
Associated Press contributors include Lolita C. Baldor in Washington; Jason Dearen in Gainesville, Florida; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Kevin McGill in Hammond, Louisiana; and Emery P. Dalesio at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
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