Twenty-five Marines and sailors scrambled Monday morning to escape a Marine CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter as it sunk to the bottom of the Gulf of Aden after it crashed attempting to land on the USS Mesa Verde.
The 17 Marines and eight sailors on board the helicopter were able to board life rafts deployed from the aircraft itself before being picked up by rigid hull inflatable boats from the Mesa Verde, said Navy Lt. Joseph Hontz, spokesman for the Navy's Fifth Fleet
Navy officials have called the rescue a "miracle" that all 25 sailors and Marines survived the crash and escaped the fast-sinking helicopter that plummeted to the bottom of the ocean. As the helicopter began sinking, sailors and Marines swam for survival while crew members on board the Mesa Verde rushed into action, Navy officials said.
"It is a testament to the teamwork between the USS Mesa Verde and the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit. They came together at the right time. They are always training for different scenarios and that training came into play that day and at that moment," Hontz told Military.com.
Hontz said the cause of the crash has not been determined as Navy officials continue an investigation. However, Navy officials made a point to say the crash was not caused by hostile actions. The Gulf of Aden is located in between Somalia and Yemen.
The surviving crew were brought into the ship's well deck and brought aboard using an accommodation ladder. Survivors were evaluated by medical professionals aboard the Mesa Verde and several crew members were treated for minor injuries, Navy officials said.
"It could have been a lot worse. We are very fortunate to have it end the way it did. We have 25 sailors and Marines are going home because of the heroic actions of the Mesa Verde and the 22nd MEU," Hontz added.
RHIBs are 35 foot-long, high-speed extreme weather boats engineered with composite materials and an inflatable tube. They are designed for insertion and extraction missions and often transport Navy SEALs.
The USS Mesa Verde is a San-Antonio class Amphibious Transport Dock equipped with a well deck, Landing Craft Air Cushions and helicopter landing area. The ship is currently embarked on a deployment with elements of the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
-- Kris Osborn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org