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  • 16
  • Apr
  • 2016
Recovery operations from HMH-463 helicopter mishap concluded

By Cpl. Timothy Irish, III Marine Expeditionary Force

Recovery operations to retrieve wreckage from a January 14, 2016 aviation mishap involving two CH-53E helicopters and 12 U.S. Marines from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463 have been concluded.

The 12 Marines serving as air crew on the helicopters were officially announced deceased on January 21 by Marine Corps officials. They had been previously been listed as duty status whereabouts unknown (DUSTWUN) while the U.S. Coast Guard searched for the missing helicopters.

The human remains discovered during the search and rescue operations and during the subsequent recovery and salvage operations led to positive identification of nine of the 12 Marines involved in the incident. Remains of Sgts. Dillon Semolina and Adam Schoeller, and Cpl. Christopher Orlando were not recovered. 

Significant wreckage from both helicopters has been recovered. The recovery operations were conducted primarily by the USNS Salvor (T-ARS 52), a rescue and salvage ship from Military Sealift Command, a Remotely Operated Vehicle Detachment from Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), Navy divers attached from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1 and Marine Aircraft Group 24. Various echelons of command within the U.S. Pacific Command assisted in the planning and execution of the recovery. The USNS Salvor used sonar, video cameras, and a submersible deep-dive remotely operated vehicle to search while utilizing cranes to retrieve found items.

A systematic mapping of the known wreckage site began immediately after the conclusion of search and rescue operations on January 19. Although weather and sea states delayed the USNS Salvor’s port departures, a thorough mapping and detailed recovery effort was conducted with 24-hour operations while on station. Before concluding recovery operations, the USNS Salvor and attached units twice swept the entire debris field, the surrounding area, and the flight path from the debris field back up to the initial aircraft collision site. 

The USNS Salvor supported recovery and salvage operations for a total of 13 days, with the recovery team conducting 24-hour operations and completing more than a hundred dives on the site.

There is the chance that some small debris not recovered may eventually wash ashore; should any member of the public find such a piece of debris, they are asked to contact either the Honolulu Police Department at (808) 529-3111, or the Marine Aircraft Group 24 Duty Officer at (808) 590-6961.

Aviation Mishap Board (AMB) and Judge Advocate General Manual (JAGMAN) investigations into the cause of the crash continue.