Fourteen Marines were missing and another eight were plucked from the Pacific Ocean minutes after a CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter crashed Tuesday south of Okinawa during a night training operation, a Marine spokesman said.
The crash occurred as the helicopter was lifting off the deck of the Navy amphibious ship USS Denver. It was the second Sea Knight helicopter crash within four days.
The first occurred Saturday morning in the Nevada desert near the Fallon Naval Air Station, killing two women Marines stationed at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Orange County.
Marine Capt. Lenny Ryan said the helicopter that crashed into the ocean, 24 nautical miles south of Kadena Air Force Base on Okinawa, was stationed at Kaneohe Marine Corps Air Station on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu. The squadron that the helicopter belonged to was on a six-month deployment to Japan.
Ryan said that of the eight Marines rescued, four suffered injuries. But by late Tuesday, Kaneohe officials were listing all four in good condition.
He said the names of the missing were being withheld until next of kin are contacted.
“It pitched over to the right and went into the water inverted, upside down,” said Marine Lt. Col. Fred Peck in Washington, D.C. “I have nothing to indicate why it did that.”
Spokesman Ryan said it was dark when the accident occurred, but that night-vision goggles were not being used. A string of accidents involving night-vision goggles that killed more than 150 Marines and Army soldiers triggered an investigation now under way by a House Armed Service subcommittee.
The CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, which is a half-size version of the Army’s CH-47 Chinook, was developed nearly 30 years ago as a Marine troop transport aircraft. It is the Marine Corps workhorse and is capable of lifting 25 troops, equipment, weapons and supplies, and can serve as a search-and-rescue aircraft. It was the Marines’ main assault helicopter during the Vietnam War.
Since 1986, accidents involving Sea Knights based at El Toro and Tustin Marine Corps air stations have claimed the lives of 16 Marines. However, the helicopter, built by the Boeing Vertol Co., has been praised for its overall safety record.
Meanwhile, investigators are attempting to determine the cause of Saturday’s collision between two CH-46s 8 miles east of the Fallon Naval Air Station that killed Sgt. Brenda L. Schroeder, 29, and Cpl. Lisa D. Tutt, 22, both of Santa Ana.
Col. Dave Underwood, commanding officer of the Marine Reserve group based at El Toro, said Thursday that it appeared that the two Marines were seated just to the rear of the crew chief’s window, where the rear rotor blade of the second helicopter struck.
Although Underwood would not speculate on whether the blade struck and killed the two Marines, other Marine officials said that was most likely the cause of death.
The two women were on a their first “indoctrination flight” to become familiar with the Sea Knight helicopter. All personnel who might have to fly in the aircraft are required to take a training flight to learn, among other things, how to get in and out of the helicopter safely, Marine officials said.
Marine researchers in Washington, D.C., said Tuesday that it appeared that Schroeder and Tutt were the first two women Marines to be killed in an aviation accident.