US Coast Guard removes broken helicopter tail, continues search for missing crew
It wasn’t immediately clear whether rescuers will attempt to remove the front-end of the helicopter, which is submerged the muddy bottom of Mobile Bay, as night falls.
One Coast Guard member is dead and three are missing following the Tuesday evening crash during a training mission about 3.5 miles west of Mullet Point near Point Clear on the Eastern Shore.
The wreckage is said to be in about 13 feet of water. The aircraft appears to have crashed nose-first into the bay.
Chief Petty Officer John Edwards said this evening that he couldn’t say whether workers would attempt to pull out the aircraft tonight or wait for the morning light.
Coast Guard officials have declined to identify the four crew members.
Earlier in the day, one of the missing members was identified by a local church minister as Dale Taylor.
Taylor and his wife, who are originally from North Carolina, have two sons ages 7 and 4, said Greg Golden, media minister at Cottage Hill Baptist Church.
He said the Taylor family have been members of the church for six years.
More than 300 people attended a 6 p.m. memorial for Taylor at Cottage Hill Baptist Church.
The Rev. Al Elmore said, “God is at his best in hopeless situations, because God does not know a hopeless situation. Nothing catches God by surprise.”
When Elmore invited Coast Guard personnel and their families to join in a prayer, more than half of those in attendance stepped forward and prayed beneath a projected image of Taylor, his wife, Teresa and their two sons, at a recent trip to Walt Disney World.
The service ended as Kirk Sullivan sang “Because He Lives” as the congregation stood, most with hands raised.
WKRG this afternoon identified another missing crew member as Drew Knight of Thomasville, Ala.
Earlier in the day, divers had trouble reaching the cabin after the forward-end of the helicopter was found submerged in the muddy bottom of the bay. Divers reported that they wouldn’t be able to check inside the cabin while the aircraft was still underwater.
This morning, U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Donald Rose said the surface search for three crew members is continuing.
“Our search is on the water and in the water right now,” Rose said this morning. “We’re holding out hope of finding the guys. They’re very well equipped. They have drop suits on, rescue equipment. We’re going to keep at it until we reach some resolution.”
Search crews discovered debris scattered across Mobile Bay — even as far north as Interestate 10 — including pieces of helicopter’s seats and radio transmission equipment. A Press-Register reporter found near the Grand Hotel in Point Clear a dye marker typically thrown from helicopters in rescue missions.
Rose said the Coast Guard has been working with an 80-square-mile search area, although there were plans to expand outward. More than 10 vessels were searching on the surface, and helicopters were in the air, he said.
Area search and rescue teams and local volunteers were part of the effort Tuesday evening.
One crew member was found shortly after the 8:30 p.m. crash in the water, unresponsive. He was later pronounced dead.
The MH-65C helicopter holds four crewmembers — a pilot, a co-pilot, a flight mechanic and a flight rescue swimmer. The helicopter is used for search and rescue missions. It has a rotor diameter of 39 feet, 2 inches, and weighs 5,267 pounds empty. The maximum speed for the helicopter is 175 knots (201 mph).
Two weeks ago, American Eurocopter, the company that builds the H-65 series helicopters, presented the U.S. Coast Guard with a certificate of commendation for attaining 1.25 million fleet flight hours on the H-65 Dolphin multi-mission helicopter.
The Associated Press reported that the Coast Guard had major problems with engine failures in the French-designed aircraft and began replacing the helicopter’s power plants in 2004. Pilots reported 67 cases of engine failures or other problems over a six-month period ending in February 2004, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.
The Coast Guard began an engine replacement program costing as much as $250 million to solve the problem, according to the report. Originally known as the HH-65, Dolphin helicopters with new engines, communication equipment and weapons were designated as the MH-65C, the type of helicopter that went down in Mobile Bay, according to the Associated Press.
Debris from the crash has been brought to Brookley Field. The cause of the crash is under investigation.
A U.S. Coast Guard spokesman said another update on the search will be released about 5 p.m.
Staff photographer Bill Starling and reporters Ben Raines, Rhoda A. Pickett and Mark Kent contributed to this report.
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