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By Alex Johnson

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter extended the government's sympathies Wednesday to the families of the 12 Marines missing since two service helicopters apparently collided last week off Hawaii.

"While there is no way to comprehend the grief their families feel today, this we do know: these proud Marines died as they lived, in service to a country they loved and in dedication to a cause greater than themselves," Carter said in a statement a day after the Coast Guard suspended its search for survivors.

The 12 Marines were aboard two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters that crashed off Oahu's north shore last Thursday night. Investigators believe the aircraft collided in midair while conducting what has been described as routine nighttime flying.

Related: 12 Marines Missing After Helicopter Crash Identified

"The loss of these 12 brave Americans is a tragic reminder of the risks our men and women in uniform take each day in service to our country," Carter said Wednesday." Today, and on all days, we remember that it is because of their dedicated efforts that we live in peace and security."