Navy declares 5 missing sailors dead following helicopter crash at sea

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UPDATE: The Navy has identified the five sailors killed in the helicopter crash.

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The five missing crew members of a U.S. Navy helicopter that crashed into the sea off the coast of San Diego on Tuesday were declared dead Saturday, the U.S. Navy said.

The U.S. 3rd Fleet on Saturday shifted from search and rescue operations to a recovery operation.

One sailor aboard the MH-60S Knighthawk was pulled from the ocean after the aircraft went down roughly 60 nautical miles from shore. The crash occurred as its six-member crew was engaging in routine flight operations off the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, which is homeported in San Diego.

San Diego Air & Space Museum CEO Jim Kidrick says flight operations increase when the crew is close to deployment.

“Your intensity of flight operations do increase just because we want to make sure everybody is fully qualified before that carrier and all of the squadron and personnel are ready to go,” he said.

The identities of the five sailors will be withheld for 24 hours after their next of kin have been notified, Navy public affairs said.

The rescued sailor and two others who were hurt in the accident while aboard the San Diego-based carrier were taken ashore for medical care in stable condition. Another three personnel on the ship suffered minor injuries and remained aboard, officials said.

A military investigation is underway into what caused the crash of the aircraft, which was assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 8 at Naval Air Station North Island. Navy officials said only that it “was operating on deck before crashing into the sea.”

The transition to recovery operations comes after more than 72 hours of rescue attempts with 34 search and rescue flights, more than 170 hours of flight time, with five search helicopters and constant surface vessel search, the Navy said.

Units involved in the effort included the Coast Guard, the Abraham Lincoln carrier, the USS Cincinnati, and helicopter squadrons from the U.S. Pacific Fleet Helicopter Sea Combat Wing and Helicopter Maritime Strike Wing.

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