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Marines Say Risks Too High to Retrieve Nepal Chopper Wreckage

A UH-1Y Huey assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469 sits at Kathmandu's airport, shortly after it arrived in Nepal on May 3, 2015. Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes
A UH-1Y Huey assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469 sits at Kathmandu's airport, shortly after it arrived in Nepal on May 3, 2015. Seth Robson/Stars and Stripes

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- The Marine Corps won't try to recover the wreckage of a helicopter that crashed during earthquake relief operations in Nepal, killing six Marines and two Nepalese soldiers.

The UH-1Y Huey went missing May 12 during relief efforts following the magnitude-7.8 earthquake that killed more than 8,200 people. The troops' bodies were recovered from a mountainside crash site after several days of searching by U.S. and Nepalese forces.

A combined U.S.-Nepalese investigation into the crash is underway, according to Lt. Col. Rob James, III Marine Expeditionary Force public affairs officer, but a mission to recover the wreckage is too dangerous due to extremely difficult terrain and the chance of landslides and aftershocks.

"Time spent at the site comes at risk to the lives of both U.S. and Nepalese servicemembers," he said.

The helicopter had been delivering rice and tarps to Charikot, a town badly damaged by the April 25 quake. It had dropped off supplies at one site and was en route to a second when contact was lost.

A Nepalese army statement said the helicopter was found at an elevation of 11,200 feet to the northeast of a place called Kalinchowk Hill.

"Since the crash was discovered, the Nepalese Army has been providing security on a regular basis at the crash site," the statement said.

On May 24, additional human remains were found at the site and have been taken to Kathmandu for examination by Nepalese and U.S. medical and forensic experts using DNA testing, the statement said.

Media reports have indicated that five Nepalese people were picked up by a helicopter on the day that the Huey went missing and have not been seen since.

"With regard to whether other individuals were also on board the U.S. Marine Corps helicopter, in addition to the U.S. Marines and Nepalese soldiers, the (Nepalese army) is continuing to investigate," the Nepalese army statement said.

U.S. military officials have said the crew of an Indian helicopter in the air when the Huey went down reported radio chatter from the Marines about a possible fuel problem.

James said no time frame has been set for the crash investigation, which aims to find out what happened and to help prevent future accidents.

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