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Marines clarify statement on helicopter crash recovery effort

The Marine Corps today clarified a statement it made Monday about remains being recovered from the Jan. 14 crash of two CH-53E helicopters off Waimea Bay, killing all 12 service members aboard.

“None of the 12 Marines that were involved in the 14 January mishap have been recovered,” Capt. Cassandra Gesecki, a spokeswoman for the III Marine Expeditionary Force, said in an e-mailed news release.

Gesecki said “trace elements of remains, in the form of DNA, were recovered during the search and rescue phase that ended on 19 Jan.” Nothing in addition to the trace elements of DNA has been found since then, she said.

“The families of the Marines that were identified have been informed of this information,” Gesecki said.

The Marines were responding to a Honolulu Star-Advertiser report quoting Capt. Tim Irish about the salvage and recovery effort for one of the deadliest military training accidents in Hawaii history. Irish, the main Marine Corps spokesman for the helicopter crash, was asked by the Star-Advertiser Monday during a phone interview: “Just to clarify, none of the Marines have been recovered to this point?”

“I’m not going to talk about that. There have been remains that were recovered,” Irish said. “The families have been given the information. I’m not going to go into that level of detail.”

No mention was made of “trace elements.”

“In order to respect the families while the recovery effort continues, we will not go into further details about what was found at this time,” Gesecki said in the release.

Irish said on Monday that “of course” the goal is the recovery of not just the two helicopters but also the fallen Marines.

The Navy’s USNS Salvor and Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1 will continue to use remotely operated vehicles to search, assess and survey the accident site to further identify and map the debris field, Gesecki said today. “This data will assist with recovery efforts,” she said, adding that recovery and salvage operations “can take several months to complete.”

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