Bodies of missing airmen found after helicopter crash

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas - They shone searchlights into black waters, poked in the seaweed at the ocean's side and swam through silty depths. A day passed, then a night, without signs of life.

The frantic, two-day search for survivors of a Navy helicopter crash ended Friday when divers found the bodies of two missing airmen among the helicopter's wreckage in the Gulf of Mexico.

The men had been missing since Thursday, when the helicopter crashed into the waters off the Texas coast during a training mission. The other four airmen - two dead and two injured - were pulled from the water Thursday.

''This has been a very difficult situation,'' said Cmdr. Bob Riehl of the HM-15 mine countermeasures squadron based at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. ''It was very important to us to bring those last crew members back, and even more important to their families.''

The MH-53E helicopter, also known as a Sea Dragon, was hovering about 17 miles off shore on a minesweeping training mission when it reported a mechanical malfunction and then plummeted into the water.

Floating wreckage was spotted 15 minutes after the distress call, and the two survivors were found floating in a life raft.

Petty Officer Jeremy J. Yaklin, 19, of Lapeer, Mich., suffered a broken pelvis. Petty Officer Shawn R. Palyo, 20, of Stratford, Conn., had cuts to his face and upper body. Both were hospitalized in stable condition Friday.

The Navy is putting together an investigation team, and officials have closed about 5 miles of beaches as they continue to recover debris from the shoreline.

The helicopter's tail, main fuselage, engines and fuel tanks were found by sonar equipment within a 200-square-foot patch of sand about 55 feet below the surface, said Navy Cmdr. Barry Coceano.

The sunken craft will stay on the Gulf floor until investigators inspect its position, Riehl said. He said an investigation team could take months to determine the cause of the crash.

The dead crew members were identified as the pilot, Lt. Shawn O. Jacobs, 30, of Jefferson City, Mo.; co-pilot Lt. Edward R. Fassnacht, 31, of Akron, Ohio; and petty officers Jeffrey S. Paschal, 40, of Phoenix, and David E. Rutherford, 27, of Masontown, Pa. Fassnacht's and Rutherford's bodies were found Friday.

Six members of the same squadron, HM-15, were killed in the Persian Gulf in 1991 when their Sea Dragon helicopter crashed after takeoff.

The Sea Dragon is manufactured by Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. in Stratford, Conn. Besides mine countermeasures, it can be used to tow vessels or transport up to 55 passengers or cargo.

''It's a very successful mine countermeasures helicopter,'' said company spokesman Bill Tuttle. He estimated the Navy has a fleet of more than 40 MH-53Es.


On the Net:

U.S. Navy Mine Warfare Command, Corpus Christi:

Sikorsky Corp:


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