A Marine Corps CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter whipped up sea spray over the Kaneohe Bay sandbar yesterday morning as it airlifted the last two sections of a sister copter that had crashed 10 days earlier, killing one crewman and injuring three others.
"It’s certainly a tragic loss and certainly an emotional week," Lt. Col. Mark Revor, commanding officer of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363, said just before the airlift. "I think this is a good rallying point for the squadron and another piece of the healing process that we are going to recover our own aircraft."
The 88-foot-long helicopter made a "hard impact" landing from an altitude of about 300 feet March 29 while on a night training flight.
Cpl. Jonathan D. Faircloth, 22, was killed in the crash. Pilot Maj. Clinton J. Collins, co-pilot Capt. Kevin F. Hayles and crew chief Cpl. Ronnie E. Brandafino were injured. Hayles was released from the hospital Monday and the other two Marines remain at the Queen’s Medical Center, where they have been moved out of the intensive care unit, the Marine Corps said.
The helicopter that crashed and the one involved in yesterday’s operation are both from Squadron 363.
Navy and Marine Corps crews removed 15,000 pounds of the aircraft Monday through Wednesday by hand-moving and floating the wreckage out to small boats, said Navy Cmdr. Tom Murphy, commander of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One. The front and tail sections, rotor blades and rear ramp were removed in the operation.
"It would have been too risky to try to lift all of (the helicopter), with the possibility of things dropping on the way," Murphy said.
A barge and crane operation were ruled out because a barge could not have gotten in close enough to make such a recovery practical, he said.
Yesterday’s operation involved removing two sections, with the rotor head and rear cargo area, weighing 7,000 to 8,000 pounds apiece. The Sea Stallion made two trips, depositing the fuselage sections on West Field, the old runway at the Marine base.
The Coast Guard said a safety zone around the crash site was canceled yesterday and that the area was reopened to the public.
The Sea Stallion carried 1,300 gallons of JP-8 fuel in internal tanks and two external tanks — short of its 1,700-gallon maximum.
One external tank had sheared from the helicopter and just less than 700 gallons leaked out, officials previously said. Randall Hu, an environmental department official with Marine Corps Base Hawaii, said about 700 gallons were recovered.
"There has been no damage to the sandbar," Hu said. "We’ve had Navy divers out to the site and they’ve inspected it and there has been no damage." The Coast Guard inspected the shoreline and found no impact there either, Hu said.
A fuel oil containment boom remained in place yesterday around the crash site, and Coast Guard, state Department of Land and Natural Resources and Marine Corps boats maintained a clear zone between the site and the Marine Corps base during the recovery operation.