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Search Called Off for Marines Missing in Helicopter Crash

A search vessel cruises the waters off the beach at Haleiwa, Hawaii, Jan. 15, 2016. Two Marine helicopters carrying 12 crew members collided off the island of Oahu during a nighttime training mission, military officials said. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)
A search vessel cruises the waters off the beach at Haleiwa, Hawaii, Jan. 15, 2016. Two Marine helicopters carrying 12 crew members collided off the island of Oahu during a nighttime training mission, military officials said. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)

The Coast Guard and Marine Corps are calling off the search for 12 missing Marines after five days of 24-hour effort, officials announced Tuesday evening in a Hawaii press conference.

Capt. Jim Jenkins, chief of staff and acting commander for the Coast Guard's 14th District, said the service would formally suspend its search at sunset Hawaii time, or about 11 p.m. Eastern time.

Jenkins said the Coast Guard, which led the search and rescue mission, had recovered pieces of the two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters that apparently collided off the north coast of Oahu Thursday night, but had yet to recover any survivors of the crash.

It's a tragic development for the Marine Corps community, which has held out hope that survivors would be found despite choppy seas and days of fruitless searching. The decision, Jenkins said, was made with the Marine Corps and after careful analysis of the case and all the search efforts to day.

"The decision to suspect the search without finding survivors is particularly difficult," Jenkins said. "We will continue to provide any comfort we can from this terrible loss."

Marine Brig. Gen. Russell Sanborn, commanding general of 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, said efforts would now turn toward recovery and salvage operations.

An aircraft mishap board would continue to analyze all the evidence and investigate the tragedy in order to make recommendations and findings, Sanborn said. Some remaining underwater rescue and salvage assets, including the salvage ship USNS Salvor, may remain on the scene to recover debris and remains in order to give closure to the families of those presumed lost, Sanborn and Jenkins said.

It's still not clear what may have caused the tragic crash.

Officials have said the two aircraft were on a routine night training flight and were due to return to their unit at Kaneohe Bay before they went down sometime before 11 p.m. Thursday. Coast Guard officials were first notified of a possible emergency when civilians reported seeing a "flare" and a "fireball" over the water off the shore of Oahu.

"To families that are most affected by this, our prayers and our support are for them," Sanborn said.

The Marines missing in the crash are are Maj. Shawn M. Campbell, 41, of College Station, Texas; Capt. Brian T. Kennedy, 31, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Capt. Steven R. Torbert, 29, of Florence, Alabama; Capt. Kevin Roche, 30, of St. Louis, Missouri; Sgt. Dillon J. Semolina, 24, of Chaska, Minnesota; Sgt. Adam C. Schoeller, 25, of Gardners, Pennsylvania; Sgt. Jeffrey A. Sempler, 22, of Woodruff, South Carolina; Sgt. William J. Turner, 25, of Florala, Alabama; Cpl. Matthew R. Drown, 23, of Spring, Texas; Cpl. Thomas J. Jardas, 22, of Fort Myers, Florida; Cpl. Christopher J. Orlando, 23, of Hingham, Massachusetts; and Lance Cpl. Ty L. Hart, 21, of Aumsville, Oregon.

In the aftermath of the crash, the Marine Corps community rallied around the families and circulated the hashtag "#PrayforPegasus," using the nickname for Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463, home of both the choppers that went down.

Sanborn said Marine Corps Base Hawaii planned to hold a memorial service for the lost Marines Friday.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@monster.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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