published Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

Alabama Coast Guard chopper crash: 1 dead, 3 missing

MOBILE, Ala. — Divers planned to search the sunken wreckage of a Coast Guard helicopter that crashed in Alabama's Mobile Bay on a training mission, leaving one crewmember dead and three others missing, officials said Wednesday.

The MH-65C helicopter crashed Tuesday evening near Point Clear, Ala. One crewmember was found unresponsive and later declared dead, the Coast Guard said in a news release.

"Our main concern is locating the three remaining crewmembers," spokeswoman Petty Officer 2nd Class Elizabeth Bordelon told The Associated Press early Wednesday.

The accident comes less than three years after an HH60 Jayhawk helicopter crashed off James Island in Washington state in July 2010, killing three Coast Guard crew members.

Tuesday's wreck also brought back memories in south Alabama of a 1981 crash of a Coast Guard helicopter near an airport in Mobile that killed all four people aboard.

Chief Petty Officer John Edwards said divers overnight had gone to the site of the helicopter, in about 13 feet of water, but were unable to gain access to its fuselage. He said they planned to try again Wednesday with hopes of confirming whether the crewmembers were inside.

"The sun is up, which improves things greatly," Edwards said.

The aircraft had departed the Aviation Training Center in Mobile on a training mission, Bordelon said. Coast Guard officials say it went down about two to three miles southwest of Point Clear. The three missing are all Coast Guard members.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the crewmembers during this difficult time," Capt. Don Rose, commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector Mobile, said in a statement.

The Coast Guard said two helicopters, an airplane and several vessels were involved in the search.

The missing crew members are "very well outfitted with survival gear wearing cold weather exposure suits," Rose told WALA-TV.

National Weather Service officials said winds in the area Tuesday night were southeast at about 15 mph, with a water temperature of about 63 degrees.

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