MOBILE, Ala. – As divers searched the muddy bottom of Alabamas Mobile Bay, a salvage ship was dispatched Wednesday to the sunken wreckage of a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter that crashed on a training mission, leaving one crewmember dead and three others missing.
Officials said the search for survivors would continue through the night throughout the choppy bay.
The MH-65C helicopter crashed Tuesday evening near Point Clear, Ala. One crewmember, a rescue swimmer, was found unresponsive and later declared dead, the Coast Guard said. The three missing crewmembers were the pilot, the co-pilot and the flight mechanic.
The crewmembers were outfitted with survival gear called dry suits for the water, which officials said was around 60 degrees.
Chief Petty Officer John Edwards said all the crew members received extensive training in emergency escape. He declined to say how long a person could typically survive in a dry suit in 60-degree water, but said, They look at beyond the survivability charts.
Rescue divers swam to the wreckage in about 13 feet of water, but a Coast Guard official told the Mobile Press-Register that the forward end of the helicopter is submerged in mud at the bottom of Mobile Bay and divers have had trouble getting to the crew cabin.
Press-Register reporters at the scene saw the tail of the helicopter sticking out of the water. The aircraft appears to have crashed nose-first into the bay.
A towing vessel was en route to the scene from Mobile, Edwards said. He said they did not expect to pull up the wreckage right away.
The MH-65C, commonly referred to as the Dolphin, is a twin-engine, single-rotor helicopter often used in search and rescue operations.
The Coast Guard had major problems with engine failures in the French-designed aircraft and began replacing the helicopters power plants in 2004, according to a report from the General Accounting Office.