KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii (AP) — A massive search for 12 Marines who were aboard two helicopters that crashed off Hawaii has been suspended, after the five-day effort failed to locate any sign of them.
Officials said at news conference late Tuesday afternoon that the search was being suspended at sundown and the Marine Corps would transition to "recovery and salvage" efforts. A memorial is tentatively planned for Friday at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay.
"The decision to suspend the search without finding survivors is particularly difficult," said Capt. James Jenkins, chief of staff and acting commander of the Coast Guard 14th District in Honolulu.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter in a statement Wednesday thanked those who participated in the search. "For the men and women who encountered rough seas and heavy swells over the course of these operations, 'leave no man behind' was not a simple slogan; it was a solemn oath," he said. "We deeply appreciate their determination and the strong support they received from state and local authorities and the people of Hawaii."
The search began late Thursday when a civilian on a beach reported seeing the helicopters flying and then a fireball.
The Marines were alerted when the CH-53E helicopters carrying six crew members each failed to return to their base at Kaneohe Bay following a nighttime training mission. Hours later, a Coast Guard helicopter and C-130 airplane spotted debris 2 1/2 miles off of Oahu.
The crash was near the north shore, but the search area spanned from the western coast of Oahu to the northeast corner of the island.
The transport helicopters were part of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Known as Super Stallions, they are the U.S. 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.
The Coast Guard initially reported that the choppers had collided, but the Marines said later it wasn't yet known if there was a collision. The cause remains under investigation.
The Marine Corps will strive to "discover all of the facts" surrounding the crash, said Brig. Gen. Russell Sanborn, commanding general of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.
They will continue the recovery of any debris and "any other remains that may discovered," he said, "so that we can give closure to those families that are still out there that still want that final piece of the puzzle."
All four life rafts from the helicopters were found but they were empty. There was no indication anyone had been on any of the rafts, based on their condition and the lack of any personal effects, the Coast Guard said.
Aircrews wear personal flotation devices with their flight suits and get additional training on top of survival swimming training, the Marines said.
"While there is no way to comprehend the grief their families feel today, this we do know: these proud Marines died as they lived, in service to a country they loved and in dedication to a cause greater than themselves," Carter said.
— Maj. Shawn M. Campbell, 41, College Station, Texas.
— Capt. Brian T. Kennedy, 31, Philadelphia.
— Capt. Kevin T. Roche, 30, St. Louis.
— Capt. Steven R. Torbert, 29, Florence, Alabama.
— Sgt. Dillon J. Semolina, 24, Chaska, Minnesota.
— Sgt. Adam C. Schoeller, 25, Gardners, Pennsylvania.
— Sgt. Jeffrey A. Sempler, 22, Woodruff, South Carolina.
— Sgt. William J. Turner, 25, Florala, Alabama.
— Cpl. Matthew R. Drown, 23, Spring, Texas.
— Cpl. Thomas J. Jardas, 22, Fort Myers, Florida.
— Cpl. Christopher J. Orlando, 23, Hingham, Massachusetts.
— Lance Cpl. Ty L. Hart, 21, Aumsville, Oregon.
Kelleher reported from Honolulu. Associated Press writers Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu and Becky Bohrer in Juneau, Alaska, contributed to this report.