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A Navy helicopter with five crew members crashed into the ocean off the Virginia coast during a routine training mission Wednesday, killing two crew members and leaving two in the hospital, the U.S. Navy said. Rescuers searched into the night for a fifth sailor.
The two who died were among four crewmembers hoisted from the 42-degree waters by a Navy helicopter and taken to a hospital, the Navy said in a statement. The two surviving sailors were being treated at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. One is listed in serious condition, the other has been upgraded to fair, the Navy said in a news release.
"Today has definitely been a tough day on all of us," Capt. Todd Flannery, the commander of Helicopter Sea Combat Wing Atlantic, said at a news conference. "Our heartfelt prayers go out to the families and loved ones of those killed and injured in today's crash."
The Navy identified the aircraft as an MH-53E. In July 2012, two crew members were killed when the same model helicopter crashed into a canyon in the Gulf nation of Oman while lifting a downed aircraft.
Wednesday's helicopter, assigned to Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron Fourteen based at Naval Station Norfolk, was doing routine training at the time of the crash, the Navy said.
According to the Naval Air Systems Command website, the three-engine helicopter searches for sea mines and does onboard delivery missions. The 99-foot craft holds a crew of up to eight, including two pilots and is capable of speeds of more than 170 mph.
It was not immediately known why the chopper, that weighs up to 34 tons, went down about 20 miles from Virginia Beach, and the Navy said the crash is under investigation.
The Navy said Virginia Beach Fire Department boats located the aircraft fuselage and tail section. Coast Guard and Navy ships also responded, including the guided missile destroyer USS Jason Dunham. Navy aircraft also were involved in the search.
The Navy said the identity of the dead crewmen would be released 24 hours after his family was notified.
Those aboard the chopper were wearing survival suits designed to keep water away from the body.
However, an adult could survive probably one to three hours in 40- to 50-degree water and would become exhausted or unconscious between 30 and 60 minutes, according to the Personal Flotation Device Manufacturers Association website. Survival also varies based on body size, body fat percentage and movement in the water.
According to a Navy investigation obtained by The Virginian-Pilot in November, the July 2012 crash of the $50 million helicopter revealed a series of problems within the Navy Sea Dragon program, which is headquartered in Norfolk. In that specific crash, the report blamed the crew for skipping preflight safety checks and for failing to develop a concrete plan for how and when to abort the mission.
But Flannery told the newspaper following the investigation that the Navy has invested millions of dollars to upgrade and better maintain its remaining 29 Sea Dragon airframes since the crash, including adding more than 100 maintenance personnel to the Norfolk-based squadrons.
The Navy had planned to phase them out beginning in the mid-2000s, but kept the Sea Dragons flying because the service had no viable replacement.
At the news conference Wednesday, Flannery said he doesn't have any concerns about the safety of the aircraft.
Szkotak reported from Richmond. AP writer Michael Felberbaum contributed.
Having worked maintenance with numerous helo platforms, the majority of catastrophic failures can be traced back to improper maintenance or hurried pre-flights. Budget cuts obviously influence safety as well. Pushing the serviceable life of components/replacement parts out further and further as well as the “lowest bidder” requirement poses problems if unqualified personnel are empowered to procure assets. Attitude of flight crews is also extremely important. Pre-flight inspections for training flights are just as (if not more so) important as those for mission critical dispatches. Given adequate altitude a helo can autorotate if engine power is lost as long as the main rotor remains attached and forward momentum can be maintained. Otherwise, they turn into a rock. Regardless of fault or blame, it is always heart breaking when crews are lost. This is no exception. My heart goes out to the families of those injured and lost.
RIP Shipmates !
Damn. Sorry to hear about the two dead. I was hoping everyone would have survived.
A moment of silence, a prayer said and a tear shed for the brave souls who train to do what must be done. Spare us the acid cheap shots lest you find yourselves where the brave do not fear to tread.
Thank you for your comments, and am saying a prayer and shedding the tears for the loved ones lost and injured. I despise the cheap shots of those who have no idea what it's like to be one of the brave.
This airframe has been around since the 60's, in various models and modifications.........time to retire this before anyone else gets killed/injured.............
Yep...and then there is the B-52 going ( along with the C-130 ) since the 1950's and will continue to do so until at least 2040. It has to do with how well the aircraft's major air frame structural components are dealt with and handled. Simple maintenance or complete replacement at Depo Level facilities? You can even look at DC-3s which are stil, STILL flying strong and are considered an aircraft of choice in many cases in the wild's of Alaska. No, it isn't the age of the design. It's the age of the parts and the approach to keeping the machine operational. New doesn't always mean better......F-35 Lightning II for example?
But also factoring in that helos are far more susceptible to wind shifts, such as downdrafts, and that auto-rotation is a hard skill to master, and that ejecting from one can literally be dicey. . . Helos are pretty dangerous compared to many other forms of air transport.
Another one, something is dreadfully wrong with the maintenance of these things....I think. Just had the one in England, now this.
Like what do I say?
I wonder how much Channey made from this sale???????????????????
Learn to spell.
=====In all that nasty weather...Political correctness and "Murphy's Law"...Have to wonder...was the unit male and female?Helicopter maintenance in my unit went to **** when women were assigned.Ended up doing something safe...transferred to Ranger unit.=====
So, Dan Collins, no need to convene a Mishap Board - you have determined that women maintenance personnel were the cause. End of story. May the Rangers enjoy your company.