CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) — A helicopter blade, human remains and chunks of insulation washed ashore Friday as Navy crews searched for two missing airmen whose helicopter plummeted into the Gulf of Mexico. Two other crew members were killed and two more survived.
The MH-53E helicopter, also known as a Sea Dragon, crashed in 50 feet of water Thursday morning during a training mission.
Early Friday, salvage crews hauled splintered insulation away from the waterline. A thick smell of diesel gas hung in the air.
"The survivability rate is very good down here," said David McBride, a Coast Guard spokesman. The water temperature is about 80 degrees.
Crews using sonar and night vision glasses were searching a 28-square-mile area. All six crew members were equipped with survival equipment, such as strobes, radios and oxygen cylinders.
"I always have hope," said Cmdr. Bob Riehl, commanding officer of the HM-15 mine countermeasures squadron based at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. "It's a big area. It's a big ocean."
The helicopter was practicing minesweeping about 17 miles offshore as part of a training mission when it reported a mechanical malfunction, Riehl said. It was attempting to return to shore when it crashed.
Another helicopter taking part in the training mission spotted wreckage about 15 minutes after the distress call. The survivors, floating in a life raft, were rescued more than 30 minutes later.
Jeremy J. Yaklin, 19, of Lapeer, Mich., and Adan Shawn R. Palyo, 20, of Stratford, Conn., were hospitalized in stable condition Friday in Corpus Christi, authorities said.
The Navy identified the dead men as the pilot, Shawn O. Jacobs, 30, of Jefferson City, Mo., and Jeffrey S. Paschal, 40, of Phoenix.
The MH-53E is manufactured by Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford, Conn. In 1996, a similar model, the CH-53E Super Stallion, crashed, killing four Sikorsky employees in Stratford. The Navy temporarily halted flights of all "E" models, including the Super Stallion and the Sea Dragon. A faulty bearing was blamed for the 1996 crash.
In addition to mine countermeasures, the MH-53E can be used to tow vessels, transport cargo and transport equipment. The helicopter can carry 55 passengers, or a 16-ton payload.
In 1991, six members of the same squadron were killed in the Persian Gulf when their Sea Dragon helicopter crashed after taking off from a ship north of Bahrain.
On the Net:
U.S. Navy Mine Warfare Command, Corpus Christi: www.cnsl.spear.navy.mil/cmwc
Sikorsky Corp: www.sikorsky.com