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11 Presumed Dead in Military Helicopter Crash


Human remains washed ashore in heavy fog Wednesday after seven Marines and four soldiers were killed in an Army helicopter crash during a night-time training mission off a Florida beach.

All 11 service members were presumed dead, according to a Pentagon official who spoke with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity for lack of authority to be identified in the media.

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.

Despite the presumption of death and the discovery of human remains, crews hampered by fog still considered it a search-and-rescue mission, said Sara Vidoni, a military spokeswoman for Eglin Air Force Base, outside Pensacola.

Much of the area was enveloped in fog that reduced visibility to two miles or less when the UH-60 Black Hawk from the Army National Guard was reported missing Tuesday night, said Katie Moore with the National Weather Service in Tallahassee.

Crews began finding debris around 2 a.m. Wednesday, but the fog kept obscuring the scene after the sun came up.

Credit Devon Ravine / AP Photo/Northwest Daily News
AP Photo/Northwest Daily News
An Okaloosa County ambulance sits at the Eglin Air Force entrance in Fort Walton Beach.

The search was focused on the Santa Rosa Sound, a narrow waterway separating Santa Rosa Island from Florida's mainland, Vidoni said.

From the beach, search boats could be heard but not seen, blasting horns as their crews peered into the water. The Coast Guard secured the waters around the crash site, she said.

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 U.S. Air Force put out a statement Wednesday:

3/11/2015 - EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — Two Ch-60 aircraft assigned to the Hammond, La Army National Guard were participating in a training exercise over night. One aircraft with four aircrew and seven Marines assigned to Camp LaJeune, N.C, was involved in an accident near Eglin range site A-17, east of the Navarre Bridge. The helicopter was reported missing at about 8:30 p.m. March 10. Debris from the aircraft was located by search and rescue team at about 2 a.m. this morning. Search and rescue efforts are underway at the accident site currently. The second helicopter and its personnel on board have returned and are accounted for at this time. The aircraft are assigned to the 1-244th Assault Helicopter Battalion in Hammond, Louisiana. They were participating in a routine training mission involving the Marine Special Operations Regiment from Camp LeJeune. Names of the aircrew and Marines on board are being withheld pending NOK notification. The accident is under investigation. Additional details will be provided as they become available.

The Army helicopter took off from a nearby airport in Destin, joining other aircraft in the exercise.

The training area includes 20 miles of pristine beachfront that has been under the control of the military since before World War II. The military sometimes drops trainees into the water to swim ashore from boats or helicopters.

Test range manager Glenn Barndollar told The AP in August that the beach provides 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.