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Weather, Swells and Laser Pointer Challenge Search for Missing Marines

This Friday, Jan. 15, 2016, photo provided by the U.S. Marine Corps shows Marines attached to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463 search for debris of a helicopter mishap in Haliewa Beach Park, Hawaii. (U.S. Marine Corps photo via AP/Ricky S. Gomez)
This Friday, Jan. 15, 2016, photo provided by the U.S. Marine Corps shows Marines attached to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463 search for debris of a helicopter mishap in Haliewa Beach Park, Hawaii. (U.S. Marine Corps photo via AP/Ricky S. Gomez)

The search for 12 Marines declared missing after a reported collision of two CH-53E Super Stallion aircraft off the north shore of Oahu is now in its third day and still ongoing, Coast Guard and Marine Corps officials said Sunday during a local press conference.

Though choppy waves and high swells that have hindered the search to date are beginning to subside, officials said interference from an individual on-shore had also presented a problem.

Capt. Jim Jenkins, chief of staff for the Coast Guard’s 14th district in Hawaii, confirmed that someone had used a laser to target the cockpit of a Coast Guard C-130 during a search-and-rescue flight Saturday night, forcing the aircraft to deviate from its search pattern.

“Fortunately, the impact was minimal,” Jenkins said. He added that targeting pilots with lasers, which can blind them and force aircraft to land, is illegal, and officials would prosecute the individual responsible if he or she was found.

Jenkins said Coast Guard assets, assisted by a Navy destroyer and an Army helicopter, continued to patrol a swelling debris field off the Oahu coast. To date, he said, more than 15,000 square miles had been searched in overlapping areas within the field. By the end of the day, aircraft will have completed more than 75 sorties in support of the effort.

The Marine Corps Saturday night identified the four officers and eight enlisted Marines who were aboard the CH-53s.

Missing 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.

Any decision to stop the search will be made in conjunction with Marine Corps officials and with the aid of Coast Guard protocols and algorithms that assess the likelihood of any survivors and the extend of the effort to date, Jenkins said. He noted that families of the missing Marines would be notified before a search is officially stopped.

Though debris consistent with the two choppers has been collected and is being analyzed by Marine Corps investigators, Jenkins declined to describe the items or wreckage that has been recovered.

“Right now we’re focused on active search-and-rescue for any survivors,” he said.

The commanding general of 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, Brig. Gen. Russell Sanborn, offered a message of hope to the families of the missing Marines.

Sanborn, an AV-8B Harrier pilot by training, recalled that, as a captain, he had been shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Kuwait on Feb. 9, 1991, during Operation Desert Storm. He was subsequently captured and held as a POW by Iraqi forces until March 6 of the same year.

“For the first 14 days I was listed as [duty status-whereabouts unknown]. After Dustwun, I was converted to MIA,” Sanborn said. “The bottom line is we have personal experience what these Marines are going through. We just want to let them know that we’re here, we’re here to support them to put our arms around them and hug them.”

--Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@monster.com.

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