Updated at 10:40 p.m., Friday, May 15
Eight bodies were recovered from a crashed U.S. Marine helicopter in earthquake-ravaged Nepal, it was reported Friday night.
Authorities had said earlier Friday, after the wreckage was found, that it was unlikely any of the six U.S. Marines and two Nepalese soldiers believed to have been aboard had survived.
The helicopter, based at Camp Pendleton and attached to Marine Light Helicopter Squadron 469, disappeared over the town of Charikot on a steep Himalayan mountainside hours after a magnitude-7.3 earthquake struck the region earlier this week.
Marine Lt. Gen. John Wissler, Commanding General, III Marine Expeditionary Force, Joint Task Force 505 and Marine Forces Japan, said during a news conference in Nepal that the wreckage of the UH-1Y Huey was found about 8 miles north of Charikot shortly before 2 p.m. Friday Nepal Standard Time in “exceptionally rugged terrain” in a dense forest at an altitude of about 11,000 feet.
“Because of the nature of the wreckage, it is unlikely that there are any survivors at this time,” Wissler said. “Our prayers are with the Marines and the Nepalese soldiers and their families. We all mourn this tragic loss of life.”
Wissler said he could not positively identify the cause of the crash nor could he confirm the identities of the service members, American or Nepalese, who were aboard the aircraft.
The UH-1Y Huey was on a disaster-relief mission called “Operation Sahayogi Haat” when it was reported missing Tuesday morning, approximately nine hours after Nepal was struck by a magnitude-7.3 aftershock to the magnitude-7.8 temblor of April 25. The initial earthquake killed more than 8,200 people while the big aftershock claimed another 117 lives.
The helicopter and squadron were diverted from a joint task force exercise in the Philippines to assist with search and rescue.
“They were determined to go forward with their duties, eager to contribute to our mission and to alleviate suffering and to come to the rescue of those in need,” Wissler said.
“They were courageous. They were selfless individuals dedicated to the international humanitarian aid mission here in Nepal. We are deeply saddened by the discovery of this wreckage.”
Aircraft from the United States, India and Nepal had searched for the missing helicopter before it was found.
U.S. Army Maj. Dave Eastburn, spokesman for U.S. Pacific Command, said an assessment of the site was ongoing and a thorough investigation would be conducted.
President Barack Obama, speaking in Washington, D.C., at the National Peace Officers Memorial ceremony, said his “prayers remain with the families of our Marines and two Nepalese soldiers.”
“They went to that remote land to help people who suffered devastating losses in a terrible earthquake,” Obama said. “They represent a truth that guides our work around the world — when our friends are in need, America helps.
“Sometimes those in uniform only get attention when there’s a battle,” he said. “But they do so much more than that, looking out for folks who are vulnerable or having a tough time, experienced a disaster. And it can involve great risk, great sacrifice. And we give thank to all our fellow Americans, military and civilian, who reflect the very best of American leadership around the world. The world is better for them.”
Adm. Samuel Locklear III, of the U.S. Pacific Command, said the men proudly served their countries as Nepalese soldiers and U.S. Marines.
“Together we mourn as our nation and the Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal have lost eight courageous men who put the needs of others ahead of their own,” Locklear said. “These men were professionals, committed to the mission, and it is their dedication and sacrifice that helps define both our militaries.”
The Navy and Marine Corps will continue the relief mission in Nepal, Locklear said.
This is a developing story. Check back with Times of San Diego for updates.
— City News Service
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: