A frantic, two-day search for survivors of a Navy helicopter crash ended today when divers found the bodies of two missing airmen among the helicopter’s wreckage in the Gulf of Mexico.
Four other airmen—two dead and two injured—were pulled from the water Thursday after the helicopter crashed during a training mission.
“This has been a very difficult situation,” said Cmdr. Bob Riehl, commanding officer of the HM-15 mine countermeasures squadron based at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. “It was very important to us to bring those last crew members back, and even more important to their families.”
The MH-53E helicopter, also known as a Sea Dragon, was hovering about 17 miles off shore on a minesweeping training mission Thursday morning when it reported a mechanical malfunction and then plummeted into the water.
Floating wreckage was spotted 15 minutes after the distress call, and the two survivors were found floating in a life raft about 15 minutes later.
Petty officers Jeremy J. Yaklin, 19, of Lapeer, Mich. and Shawn R. Palyo, 20, of Stratford, Conn., were hospitalized in stable condition Friday, said Lt. j.g. Chuck Bell with Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. Yaklin suffered a broken pelvis and Palyo had cuts to his face and upper body.
The Navy identified the dead crew members as the pilot, Lt. Shawn O. Jacobs, 30, of Jefferson City, Mo.; co-pilot Lt. Edward R. Fassnacht, 31, of Akron, Ohio; and petty officers Jeffrey S. Paschal, 40, of Phoenix, and David E. Rutherford, 27, of Masontown, Pa. Fassnacht’s and Rutherford’s bodies were found this afternoon.
Ongoing Investigation The Navy is putting together an investigation team, and officials have closed about five miles of beaches as they continue to recover debris from the shoreline.
The helicopter’s tail, main fuselage, engines and fuel tanks were found by sonar equipment within a 200-square-foot patch of sand about 55 feet below the surface, said Navy Cmdr. Barry Coceano.
The sunken craft will stay on the Gulf floor until investigators inspect its position, Riehl said. He said an investigation team could take months to determine the cause of the crash.
Flights To resume Despite the unknown cause, none of the squadron’s helicopters has been grounded and flights will resume Monday, Riehl said.
“We need to continue to be confident in what we do and the aircraft we fly,” he said.
Six members of the same squadron, HM-15, were killed in the Persian Gulf in 1991 when their Sea Dragon helicopter crashed after take off.
The Sea Dragon is manufactured by Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. in Stratford, Conn. Besides mine-countermeasures, it can be used to tow vessels or transport up to 55 passengers or cargo.
“It’s a very successful mine counter-measures helicopter,” said company spokesman Bill Tuttle. He estimated the Navy has a fleet of more than 40 MH-53Es.