The bodies of two soldiers aboard an Army helicopter that crashed along the foggy Florida coast have been found, and nine other military members are feared dead.
Wreckage and remains were found Thursday, two days after the Black Hawk carrying 11 servicemen went down during a training exercise. The Louisiana National Guard confirmed Thursday that two of their soldiers had been found dead, hours after officials transitioned from a search-and-rescue operation to a recovery and accident investigation.
"At this point, we are not hopeful for survivors," Col. Monte Cannon, Vice Commander, 96th Test Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, told reporters.
Aboard the chopper were seven Marines and four soldiers. The Louisiana National Guard said the other two soldiers were believed to be dead as well, but said their remains had not yet been recovered.
“It is with a heavy heart that we announce that two of our own have perished in this tragic accident,” said Maj. Gen. Glenn H. Curtis, the adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard. “We believe the other two remain with the aircraft."
All four Guardsmen were assigned to the 1-244th Assault Helicopter Battalion in Hammond, Louisiana. They were assisting Marines with a routine training exercise Tuesday night in Navarre, Florida.
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The flight data recorder is believed to still be in the wreckage and has not been retrieved yet, officials said. No names or other information about the personnel aboard the doomed Black Hawk were released.
"We have retrieved remains. That's all I can say at this point. We have an armed service medical examiner out there right now," said Eglin Fire Chief Mark Giuliano.
Heavy fog reduced visibility in the search area virtually to zero, Giuliano said. Boats steered slowly through the water while hunting for survivors, cautious of bumping into one another in the dense air.
It was too soon to determine a cause for the crash, the officials said.
The 11 servicemembers were assigned to Camp LeJeune in North Carolina. A second helicopter participating in the exercise returned safely.
If all 11 perished, it would be one of the worst military training disasters in recent memory. Seven Marines were killed in a mortar blast at an Army depot in Nevada in 2013, and the year before that, seven were killed when two helicopters collided in Arizona.
Hundreds attended a vigil Wednesday night in Navarre, Florida, a quiet spot along the beach that is usually a place where servicemembers go to relax or train in between dangerous assignments, The Associated Press reported.
"My heart is really hurt right now knowing these people were here just on training — knowing they went and left their family members and did not give that goodbye, you know, because they weren't going off to war," Dolly Edwards, whose husband is a Marine, told the AP.
— Elizabeth Chuck, Cassandra Vinograd and Jim Miklaszewski