LA PUSH, Wash. July 8 2010- A Coast Guard helicopter crashed off the Washington Coast Wednesday morning, killing three of four crew members on board.
Rear Adm. Gary Blore, Commander of the Thirteenth Coast Guard District, said the fourth crew member was at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, and being treated for non-life-threatening injuries. Officials said the patient is awake and alert.
None of the crew members’ identities have been released.
Petty officer Nathan Bradshaw in Seattle said a MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crashed in the waters off James Island near La Push, about 100 miles west of Seattle on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The helicopter, Bradshaw said, lost contact with the Coast Guard around 9:30 a.m.
Bradshaw said officials have not determined what may have caused the helicopter to go down. But a witness told KOMO News the helicopter struck power lines.
“The helicopter came in low… it swerved a little bit and then it hit power lines and… the propeller came off and it just fell apart,” said Inga Banks. She said there were four power lines stretched across the water, each identified by orange markers.
Quileute tribal member Rio Jaime told the Peninsula Daily News that he saw the helicopter clip the power lines with its tail, sending it down to the water.
“It took us a little bit to realize that really happened,” he said. “It was like in the movies.”
Capt. Salvatore Palmeri later confirmed the helicopter was in the water and there were power lines down across the beach. He said the power lines were originally set about 250 feet off the ground, and are marked on navigational charts. Palmeri said it is routine for their helicopters to fly at low altitudes over water.
Two crew members were plucked out of the water by tribal members of the Quileute Nation. A third crew member was located about 2½ hours later.
Darryl Penn, the harbormaster for the Quileute Nation in La Push, heard the crash and saw the wreckage. Penn said he and his cousin raced out to the wreckage on a small boat and were able to reach two of the members, who were “pretty banged up.” He found one of the crew members in the water, wet suit on, and the other in the wreckage.
“You know, these guys are out here for us, for the guys who fish,” Penn said. “When they go down, it’s scary.”
Bradshaw said the MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter took off from Astoria, Ore., and was heading to Sitka, Alaska. Bore said the helicopter was a brand new model and was in transit to Alaska from the east coast. It had stopped in Astoria for routine fueling and service.
The Coast Guard deployed a MH-65 Dolphin and another MH 60 Jayhawk helicopter crew and response crews to search for the missing crew members. Dive teams from Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and the National Parks Service were en route and Quileute tribal response teams are providing additional assistance, officials said.
The MH-60 Jayhawk is a twin-engine helicopter with a crew of four, similar to the Army UH-60. Petty Officer Kip Wadlow in Washington, D.C., says it is primarily used for search and rescue and homeland security missions. An MH 60 Jayhawk helicopter crashed in the Utah mountains in March. All five crew members survived.