Four U.S. Marines were killed on Friday when an American MV-22 Osprey aircraft crashed during a large NATO military exercise in Norway, the Norwegian prime minister said.
"It is with great sadness we have received the message that four American soldiers died in a plane crash last night," Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said on Saturday on Twitter. "The soldiers participated in the NATO exercise Cold Response. Our deepest sympathies go to the soldiers' families, relatives and fellow soldiers in their unit."
The plane crashed in Nordland, a county in northern Norway, local authorities said. Police arrived at the scene around 1:30 a.m. local time and "soon confirmed that the crew of 4 were deceased," Nordland Chief in Staff Bent Eilertsen said in a statement. "As far as we know, all 4 are American."
The Norwegian government confirmed the four crew members' bodies were retrieved Sunday. The Marines then identified the deceased as Capt. Matthew J. Tomkiewicz, 27, of Fort Wayne, Indiana; Capt. Ross A. Reynolds, 27, of Leominster, Massachusetts; Gunnery Sgt. James W. Speedy, 30, of Cambridge, Ohio and Cpl. Jacob M. Moore, 24, of Catlettsburg, Kentucky.
"The pilots and crew were committed to accomplishing their mission and serving a cause greater than themselves,” Maj. Gen. Michael Cederholm, the commanding general of 2d Marine Aircraft Wing, said in a letter released Sunday to his Marines and their families.
The Marines will be reunited with their families through dignified transfer in the coming days, officials said.
"We will continue to execute the mission while keeping these Marines and their service on the forefront of our minds. We will never allow these Marines’ sacrifice to go unnoticed or unappreciated," Cederholm said. "Keep these Marines and their loved ones in your thoughts and prayers."
The Marines were assigned to the Second Marine Aircraft Wing.
"Though the nature of military service is inherently dangerous, the safety of our Marines, Sailors, Allies and partners is our top priority," the Second Marine Expeditionary Force said in a statement. "Our hearts go out to the families affected by these events."
Maj. Jim Stenger, a U.S. Marine Corps spokesperson, said in a statement Friday that the aircraft was conducting training as part of Cold Response, a large NATO military exercise that occurs every two years, when the incident occurred.
Stenger said the incident remains under investigation.
Currently, there are 3,000 U.S. Marines in northern Norway participating in Cold Response 22, described as one of the largest NATO exercises since the end of the Cold War. There are 30,000 troops in total participating in this year's exercise.
Held every two years, the exercise was planned long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine and helps to train multinational NATO forces in how to operate in the Arctic.
Norway's Armed Forces and the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre of Northern Norway issued statements Friday confirming they were searching for a missing Osprey aircraft that had failed to land at its destination.
"The Osprey belongs to the U.S. Marine Corps and is taking part in the Norwegian military exercise Cold Response in Norway," said the statement from Forsvaret, Norway's armed forces. "The aircraft has a crew of four and was out on a training mission in Nordland County, northern Norway on Friday 18 March 2022."
The statement said the Osprey was en route to Bodø, where it was scheduled to land just before 6 p.m. local time and was reported missing at 6:26 p.m. local time with its last known position being south of Bodø.
Search and rescue aircraft were launched but weather conditions in the area were described as "challenging and are expected to get worse." An apparent crash site south of Bodø was located from the air three hours later.
"Due to the weather conditions, it has not been possible to enter the site from the air," said the Norwegian armed forces statement Friday. "Police and rescue crews are now on their way into the area."
The investigation at the crash site has been further paused due to poor weather conditions, Nordland police said.
"It is extreme avalanche danger and heavy rain in the area right now," Eilertsen said. "Landslide experts have given the police a strong recommendation not to enter the landslide area."
Police will return once the weather allows, he said. The Norwegian Safety Investigation Authority has also been notified.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.