Crews face 9-metre waves in search for Marines missing off Hawaii coast

HALEIWA, Hawaii -- Rescuers battled waves up to nine metres Saturday as they searched for 12 Marines who are missing after two helicopters crashed off the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

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The waves dispersed the debris and complicated the search, which was expanded to include waters off Oahu's west coast. "It makes finding things incredibly difficult," Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Scott Carr said.

Winds died down to about 16 kilometres per hour, but the National Weather Service said a high surf warning would remain in effect through Sunday morning.

The Coast Guard was notified late Thursday of the crash by a civilian who saw the aircraft flying then disappear and a fireball. Someone else reported a flare in the sky, Carr said. It was not clear if the fireball and the flare were the same.

The Marines were alerted when the CH-53E helicopters carrying six crew members each failed to return to their base at Kaneohe Bay following a nighttime training mission. Hours later, a Coast Guard helicopter and C-130 airplane spotted debris four kilometres off of Oahu.

A Navy P-3 airplane was scouring the ocean, along with helicopters from the Coast Guard, Army, Navy and Honolulu police and fire departments. Two Navy warships and two Coast Guard cutters were on the scene. Honolulu lifeguards on personal watercraft were also looking.

The Coast Guard was keeping people out of a wide zone that spanned about 30 miles of shoreline, citing danger from debris. The zone extended from the shore to 13 kilometres off the coast.

National Weather Service meteorologist Derek Wroe said Saturday that the surf peaked Friday afternoon and was slowly declining.

A storm about 2,415 kilometres to the north and northwest of Oahu was sending large swells to the islands, he said.

The transport helicopters were part of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Known as Super Stallions, they are the U.S. military's largest helicopter, capable of carrying a light armoured vehicle, 14,515 kilograms of cargo or a team of combat-equipped Marines, according to a Marine Corps website.

The Coast Guard initially reported that the choppers had collided, but Marine Capt. Timothy Irish said Friday that he did not know if the accident was a collision.

The helicopters normally carry four crew members, but this particular flight also carried one or two instructor trainers, Irish said. He did not know if they were teaching the crew or just observing.

On Saturday evening, the U.S. Marine Corps released the names of the missing officers. They are:

  • Maj. Shawn M. Campbell, 41, College Station, Texas.
  • Capt. Brian T. Kennedy, 31, Philadelphia.
  • Capt. Kevin T. Roche, 30, St. Louis.
  • Capt. Steven R. Torbert, 29, Florence, Alabama.
  • Sgt. Dillon J. Semolina, 24,Chaska, Minnesota.
  • Sgt. Adam C. Schoeller, 25, Gardners, Pennsylvania.
  • Sgt. Jeffrey A. Sempler, 22, Woodruff, South Carolina.
  • Sgt. William J. Turner, 25, Florala, Alabama.
  • Cpl. Matthew R. Drown, 23, Spring, Texas.
  • Cpl. Thomas J. Jardas, 22, Fort Myers, Florida.
  • Cpl. Christopher J. Orlando, 23, Hingham, Massachusetts.
  • Lance Cpl. Ty L. Hart, 21, Aumsville, Oregon.

The family of Orlando said it was grateful for people's prayers. "We continue to monitor the ongoing search effort in Hawaii and are thankful for the hard work of the many federal and local heroes undertaking this search and rescue mission," the family said in a statement released by the Massachusetts State Police.

Before Orlando joined the Marines, he was a counsellor at a surf camp in Hull, Massachusetts, and is a "camp legend," the South Shore Surf Camp said in a Facebook post. "He is mentally and physically strong with the ocean experience and skills needed to survive anything Mother Nature can throw at him."

Hart lives on base in Hawaii with his wife. His former high school football coach and teacher, Alan Kirby, described Hart as a positive kid who always had a smile on his face and called him a quick learner on the gridiron.

The family of Roche believes he was one of the Marines aboard the helicopters. "We believe the Marines and Coast Guard are doing everything they can to bring Kevin and his fellow Marines home safely, and we are grateful to everyone involved in the rescue," said a family statement distributed by brother-in-law Anthony Kuenzel in St. Louis.

The uncle of Semolina said the 24-year-old wanted to be a Registered Nurse when he left the Marines. "He was waiting to hear from a school he had applied to and was hoping to hear next week," said his uncle, Ryan Bachand.

Semolina is an impressive young man, respectful and positive, Bachand said. He had been a good football player at Delano, Minnesota, high school.

Associated Press writers Caleb Jones, Audrey McAvoy and Jennifer Kelleher in Honolulu, Greg Keller at Waimea Bay, Bob Lentz in Philadelphia, Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska, and Lisa Baumann in Seattle contributed to this report.


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