The Army on Monday officially identified the five soldiers missing after a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed off the coast of Hawaii on August 15. The crash occurred during a night time training exercise of the 25th Infantry Division’s Combat Aviation Brigade. An extensive search and rescue operation covering approximately 70,000 square nautical miles has been underway since the time of the crash in a joint effort between the Army, Navy, and Coast Guard. That search and rescue operation has officially been called off as of Monday, however.
It is still unknown what caused the likely-fatal crash, but given the extent of the damage to the wreckage that has been recovered, military officials were forced to come to the decision to call off the search and rescue operations. That was a very difficult thing to do for the Armed Forces, which took the loss very personally.
“A decision to suspend searching without finding survivors is extremely difficult given the depth of its impact and I know I speak for the entire Coast Guard when I say our thoughts and prayers are with Army helicopter squadron and particularly with families and loved ones of those missing,” said Rear Adm. Vincent B. Atkins, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s 14th District, which had been conducting search operations for the missing soldiers.
The five fallen soldiers who lost their lives in the fatal crash are
- 1st Lt. Kathryn M. Bailey, 26, of Hope Mills, North Carolina
- Chief Warrant Officer 3 Brian M. Woeber, 41, of Decatur, Alabama
- Chief Warrant Officer 2 Stephen T. Cantrell, 32, of Wichita Falls, Texas
- Staff Sgt. Abigail R. Milam, 33, of Jenkins, Kentucky
- Sgt. Michael L. Nelson, 30, of Antioch, Tennessee
The families of the missing soldiers were notified on Monday that the Army and Coast Guard were ending the search and rescue operation.
A search and rescue operation continued for six days while the Army and Coast Guard found debris from the crashed Black Hawk helicopter. That search and rescue operation was officially called off by both branches on Monday. The Army will now be switching focus from rescue to recovery as it investigates the cause of the crash.
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The Black Hawk helicopter was first reported as missing on August 15 when a partner helicopter lost visual and radio contact. Since that time, there have been 132 separate searches ranging from aerial searches to dive teams. The Army on Monday officially changed the five soldiers’ statuses to duty status—whereabouts unknown, or DUSTWUN, meaning they are missing but not declared officially deceased.
This tragedy comes on the heels of several recent fatal crashes involving both the Marine Corps and the Navy. Those included 10 sailors aboard the USS John S. McCain earlier this week, seven sailors killed in a crash of the USS Fitzgerald in June, as well as a Marine Corps Osprey crash which claimed the lives of three Marines in early August, and the fatal crash of a Marine Corps KC-130 in Mississippi that claimed the lives of 15 Marines and 1 Navy corpsman.
“Even as we grieve, we have a mission to do,” said Gen. Christopher G. Cavoli, commander of the 25th Infantry Division. “The next phase is focused on recovery operations. We will work with our Navy and our Army partners to do everything possible to understand the circumstances of this terrible situation and to try to bring our soldiers home to their families. We owe our soldiers and their families nothing less.”
The Veterans Site joins the Army and the nation in mourning the loss of these five brave missing soldiers. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families, friends, and fellow service members.
Jacob H. is an award-winning journalist and photojournalist who currently resides is West Michigan with his wife. In his spare time, Jacob enjoys writing, photography, mountain climbing, and camping.