Four soldiers based out of Louisiana and seven Marines based out of North Carolina are missing after an Army helicopter crashed during a night training exercise at Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle, officials said.
A Pentagon official said Wednesday morning that the 11 service members are presumed dead and that the Coast Guard found debris in the water. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the official wasn't authorized to speak on the record.
Base officials said the soldiers are from a Louisiana National Guard base in Hammond, while the Marines are part of a Camp Lejeune, North Carolina-based special operations group. The UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter went down during a routine training mission on a remote swath of beach between Pensacola and Destin. The beach is owned by the military and is used for test missions.
"At this time all are missing," said Andy Bourland, a spokesman for the base. "It was not a mid-air incident."
The base reported two helicopters assigned to the 1-244th Assault Helicopter Battalion in Hammond were participating in a training exercise, when one of them was involved in an accident. It added the helicopter was reported missing around 8:30 p.m. and debris from the helicopter was found around 2 a.m.
Search and rescue efforts continue at the site of the accident. Bourland added the Army helicopter took off from a nearby airport in Destin and joined other aircraft in the training exercise. The area where the crash happened Tuesday night was under a fog advisory and the foggy conditions remained Wednesday morning. The names of those on board the crashed helicopter have not been released. An investigation is underway into what caused the crash.
The 1-244th Assault Helicopter Battalion received the Founders and Patriots of America's 2012 Outstanding National Guard Unit Award. It is a very active battalion and is known for its rooftop rescues in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A key mission of the 1-244th has been search and rescue operations during hurricanes. Since Katrina, the unit has rescued more than 40,000 Louisiana residents.