Military copter crashes with 11 aboard in Florida training

By MELISSA NELSON-GABRIEL
Associated Press

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AP) - Human remains washed ashore in heavy fog Wednesday after seven Marines and four soldiers were believed to be killed in an Army helicopter crash during a night-time training mission in Florida.

All 11 service members aboard the Army National Guard's UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter were presumed dead, according to a Pentagon official who spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for lack of authority to discuss the incident publicly.

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.

"We knew immediately that something was not right. We listened for sirens, but there were no sirens. Then this morning, we heard a lot of sirens," she added.

President Barack Obama spoke with the military leaders involved Wednesday and said he's confident there will be a detailed and thorough investigation. He also expressed his condolences to the families and fellow service members of those killed, his spokesman, Josh Earnest, said.

"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 and the discovery of human remains, the military still considers it a rescue mission, said Sara Vidoni, a military spokeswoman for Eglin Air Force Base, outside Pensacola.

Fog reduced visibility to less than two miles when the copter went missing Tuesday night, 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 water.

About a dozen airmen wearing fatigues walked shoulder-to-shoulder down the beach meanwhile, scanning the sand. Civilian law enforcement and rescue crews including searchers with dogs and dozens of boats 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, North Carolina. The National Guard soldiers were from a unit based in Hammond, Louisiana. None were immediately identified so that families could be told first.

The Army helicopter had taken off from 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.

The military sometimes drops trainees into the water in the area, to make their way ashore from boats or helicopters.

Test range manager Glenn Barndollar told The AP in August that the site is an ideal training area for special operations units from all branches of the military to practice over the water, on the beach and in the bay.

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Associated Press contributors include Lolita C. Baldor in Washington; Jason Dearen in Gainesville, Florida; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Kevin McGill in Hammond, Louisiana.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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