Water safety officials hand over possible debris from an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crash to military personnel stationed at a command center in a harbor, Wednesday, August 16, 2017 in Haleiwa, HI. An Army helicopter with five on board crashed several miles off Oahu's North Shore late Tuesday. Rescue crews are searching the waters early Wednesday. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

Search area expands for Army helicopter missing off Hawaii

August 17, 2017 - 6:59 pm

HONOLULU (AP) — The U.S. Coast Guard said Thursday it was now searching up to 50 miles (80 kilometers) off Hawaii for five soldiers missing after their Black Hawk helicopter crashed during nighttime training.

Swift and dynamic currents prompted the rapid expansion. About 24 hours earlier, the search was focused on waters about 5 miles (8 kilometers) off shore.

Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir, a spokeswoman for the Coast Guard in Hawaii, said this is typical for this part of the ocean.

"We're accustomed to that and our search planners are accustomed to that," she said.

The water depth varies across the vast area. At the moment, the Coast Guard is only searching the surface of the ocean.

Rescue crews were looking for two pilots and three crew members missing since their helicopter went down off Oahu's Kaena Point late Tuesday.

Airplanes were scouring the outer edges of the search area, Muir said. Helicopters and vessels were searching closer in, about 15 to 20 miles (24 to 32 kilometers) offshore.

On Wednesday, Honolulu Fire Department search and rescue crews found and collected pieces of helicopter fuselage and a helmet.

Two Black Hawk crews were conducting training between Kaena Point and Dillingham Airfield when communications were lost, officials said.

Kaena is a rugged spot where Oahu's northern and western coasts meet to form a small peninsula. Officials closed the state park at Kaena Point while the search was underway.

A Coast Guard plane, two helicopters and several boats were being used in the search. The Army and Marine Corps joined the effort, as did Honolulu firefighters and lifeguards.

The two helicopters are part of the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade based in Hawaii.

The UH-60 Black Hawk is a four-bladed, twin-engine utility helicopter manufactured for the Army by Sikorsky Aircraft starting in the 1970s.

More than 3,000 Black Hawk aircraft are in service around the world, according to Sikorsky's parent company Lockheed Martin. The U.S. Army owns 2,300 of them.

In April, one crew member was killed and two others were injured when an Army Black Hawk helicopter crashed onto a golf course in Maryland during a routine training flight.

In 2015, 11 crew members were killed when an Army Black Hawk helicopter crashed into the water off Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

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