2 US Marine helicopters collide off Hawaii

January 16, 2016, 6:31am

Haleiwa - Two US Marine Corps helicopters carrying six crew members each collided and went down off the Hawaiian island of Oahu while on a nighttime training mission, and rescuers searched choppy waters Friday where debris had been sighted, military officials said.

There was no immediate word on the fate of those aboard or what caused the accident. The transport helicopters known as CH-53Es crashed just before midnight Thursday, officials said.

A Coast Guard helicopter and C-130 airplane spotted a debris field 4km offshore early on Friday. The debris covered an area of 3.2km, Marine Capt. Timothy Irish said.

The choppers are part of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Known as Super Stallions, they are the US military's largest helicopter, capable of carrying a light armored vehicle, 16 tons of cargo or a team of combat-equipped Marines, according to a Marine Corps website.

Elaray Navarro, a retiree who lives across the street from the beach, said she heard two booms late Thursday that were loud enough to shake her house.

"I threw my blanket off, put my slippers on and ran outside thinking it was a car accident," she said. She expressed concern for the crew as she watched the pounding surf from a beach in Haleiwa. "I pray to the man upstairs to help them. To bring them home safely," she said.

The search included aircraft from the Navy and Air Force, a Honolulu Fire Department rescue boat and Coast Guard cutters, officials said.

A swell approaching the area was to bring dangerously high waves to beaches near the rescue operation, National Weather Service meteorologist Matthew Foster said. Winds were expected to be relatively calm.