HAMMOND, LA (WVUE) – A search for 11 service members missing after a helicopter crash off the Florida coast was called off for the night Wednesday because of weather, according to Air Force spokesman Maj. Craig Savage.
Savage said he expects the search to resume Thursday morning.
Human remains washed up on a Florida beach as crews search for 11 missing military members involved in an Army helicopter crash. The Pentagon said all 11 service members are presumed dead, according to the Associated Press.
Four soldiers involved in the crash were from a Hammond, Louisiana-based National Guard unit. Seven Marines based in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina were also on board when the helicopter went down.
Major General Glenn Curtis called Wednesday a “tough day for the Louisiana National Guard and Marine Corps” after the crash in Florida.
Officials say two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters assigned to the Hammond, Louisiana National Guard were participating in a routine training exercise overnight when the incident occurred.
One of the helicopters was reported missing around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday night. The helicopter flew out of Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. Debris from the helicopter was found around 2 a.m. Wednesday, according to officials at Eglin Air Force Base.
The helicopter went down off of Navarre Beach on Santa Rosa Sound, which is a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico between Pensacola and Destin.
Curtis said both pilots involved in the crash were instructor pilots. The entire crew had several thousand hours of experience.
The second helicopter and personnel on board returned and are all accounted for.
Heavy fog complicated search-and-rescue efforts on Wednesday morning. Crews searching for the helicopter off the coast of Florida took to the air once the fog started to lift. At least one helicopter was flying over the Santa Rosa Sound on Wednesday afternoon.
“It was foggy in the area,” said Sara Vindoni with the Eglin Air Force Base. “We have no way of knowing right now if that impacted the accident in any way.”
Human remains have washed up on the shore, according to officials at the base. Despite remains being found, it is still considered a search and rescue mission.
Multiple agencies are on scene including the Coast Guard. Boats have been in the water for over 12 hours. The Coast Guard states they spotted debris in the water that match the downed helicopter. However, they are still waiting to get into the air to assist.
“We have eyes in the air that can help us,” said Lily Zepeda with the U.S. Coast Guard. “They can also redirect the small boats if they’re finding bigger patterns of debris or if they see anybody out there. Right now with a small boat our visibility is a little bit limited. Helicopters give us eyes in the air.”
The search area is approximately 17 miles by three miles, focused within the Santa Monica Sound. The Coast Guard is working with the Eglin Air Force Incident Command Post, which consists of personnel from Escambia County Volunteer Services, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, firefighters from Okaloosa County, Hurlburt Field Fire Department and Gulf Breeze Fire Department.
They’re a great unit and they have a great history,” Curtis said. The unit rescued hurricane victims from rooftops during Katrina. All four solders were men from Louisiana and married with children. He did not release the identity of anyone on the helicopter.
Curtis said there was a black box on board the helicopter.
Governor Bobby Jindal released a statement Wednesday morning following the crash.
“Four members of the crew are part of the Louisiana National Guard. Our guardsmen have fought courageously overseas in defense of our nation, and here at home, they have protected what matters most during times of crisis.
“These soldiers represent the best of Louisiana, and we are praying for them and their families.”
Curtis said he received a call from Jindal and President Barack Obama.
Obama said he is confident there will be a thorough investigation into what led to the helicopter crash. He also expressed condolences to family members of those missing.
“We always appreciate the sacrifices made by those who answer the call to defend our freedoms, and tragic events like this remind us of the price of those freedoms,” said Congressman Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson.