HONOLULU (AP) — The parents of one of 12 Marines killed after two helicopters crashed during training exercises in Hawaii say the aircraft he was in shouldn't have been flying. They also dismissed the search efforts for the Marines as "an embarrassment."
Mike and Lisa De La Cruz, whose son 24-year-old Sgt. Dillon Semolina was the helicopter crew chief, said ongoing maintenance problems should have kept the CH-53E Super Stallions grounded, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. No trace of their son has been recovered.
Capt. Cassandra Gesecki, a spokeswoman for The III Marine Expeditionary Force, defended the search and said that "no time was wasted."
"U.S. Navy dive teams immediately supported the initial search and rescue effort and began the underwater search phase, ultimately locating the mishap site," she said.
Just days before the January crash, a Marine general fired the commander of the helicopter squadron. Marine spokesman 1st Lt. Joseph Butterfield had said higher command lost confidence in Lt. Col. Edward Pavelka's ability to lead Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463. The Marine Corps hasn't released details about the firing.
Butterfield said the investigation into Pavelka's removal "will be comprehensive, but it would be inappropriate to speculate on issues covered by the scope of the investigation or the CH-53 aviation mishap board."
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said at a Senate subcommittee hearing in March that the CH-53 aircraft was probably the "most challenged" because of a shortage. He said the Corps planned for more of the choppers to go through maintenance and make spare parts more accessible.
Lisa De La Cruz said she would like the Marines to find the remains of her son and the two others whose are still missing.
"Dillon was our family hero and is missed so dearly," she said in an email.