MIAMI (AP) — The largest sections of a Black Hawk helicopter that crashed during a nighttime training mission were pulled Saturday from the waters off Florida’s Panhandle amid efforts to recover the remains of all seven Marines and four soldiers who were killed.
The salvage operations that had been interrupted Friday night by bad weather were expected to finish late Saturday, said Eglin Air Force Base spokesman Andy Bourland.
The debris pulled from about 25 feet of water in the Santa Rosa Sound off Navarre will be moved to the Air Force’s Hurlburt Field to be examined by investigators.
“We will continue our recovery efforts as needed to ensure we collect as many human remains as possible,” Bourland said.
The probe into the crash is being led by the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, based in Fort Rucker, Alabama. Investigators already are on site, Bourland said.
The Black Hawk crashed in dense fog early Tuesday. Maj. Gen. Joseph L. Osterman, commander of Marine Corps special operations forces, has said those aboard the aircraft had tried to abort their mission when they decided it was too risky.
The Marines had been flying offshore before the crash to practice rappelling down ropes into the water and then making for land, and the same drill had been practiced in daylight, Osterman said.
The seven Marines were members of the same team, part of the Marine Special Operations Command, which totals about 2,500 troops.
Among those killed was 26-year-old Staff Sgt. Andrew Seif, who had been awarded one of the military’s highest honors for heroism only days earlier. He had been commended for his efforts to save a mortally wounded friend in heavy gunfire in Afghanistan.
The other Marine victims have been identified as Staff Sgt. Marcus Bawol, 27, of Warren, Michigan; Staff Sgt. Kerry Michael Kemp, 27, of Port Washington, Wisconsin; Capt. Stanford H. Shaw, III, 31, from Basking Ridge, New Jersey; Master Sgt. Thomas A. Saunders, 33, from Williamsburg, Virginia; Staff Sgt. Trevor P. Blaylock, 29, from Lake Orion, Michigan and Staff Sgt. Liam A. Flynn, 33, from Queens, New York.
Four National Guard soldiers from Louisiana also were killed; their names had not been released as of Saturday. The National Guard soldiers, from Hammond, Louisiana, each did two tours in Iraq and joined in humanitarian missions after Gulf Coast hurricanes and the 2010 BP oil spill off Louisiana.