Search ends for nine lost in mid-air collision off San Clemente Island


The search for eight men and a woman missing in the midair collision of a Coast Guard search plane and a Marine Corps helicopter ended Sunday, the U.S. Coast Guard announced.

A USCG helicopter at first light went to the scene of Thursday’s crash

near San Clemente Island for the final hunt for survivors but returned empty-handed around 10 a.m., Petty Officer Henry Dunphy said.

That comes after a search on Saturday that included three choppers and

six surface ships.

Authorities were moving into a salvage, recovery and investigative

phase now, Dunphy

“Continuous search coverage was provided from the time of the crash

until suspension,” said Capt. Thomas Farris, the commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector San Diego. “Coast Guard assets will stay on the scene with Navy assets to assist in salvage efforts.

“A joint mishap analysis board consisting of Coast Guard and Marine

Corps members will be convened to investigate the incident.”

The crash involving a 65-ton U.S. Coast Guard C-130 with seven people

aboard and a much smaller Camp Pendleton-based AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter with two aboard occurred around 7 p.m. Thursday.

The Coast Guard crew was looking for a missing boater -- David Jines,

50, of Santa Catalina Island, who was last seen heading towards Avalon harbor Tuesday night on a motorized skiff after helping a friend trying to anchor in strong winds. The helicopter was headed to Navy-controlled San Clemente Island

for training.

Air and sea crews searched 650 square miles of ocean between San

Clemente Island and the mainland.

Military searchers found a debris field scattered over a 5-by-12 mile

area, where the ocean is about 63 degrees and 2,000 feet deep. So far, pieces of wreckage have been recovered, but none of those who had been aboard the aircraft have been found.

Dunphy declined to detail the sort of debris that has been recovered so far. He said it would be a major part of an extensive investigation into the cause of the accident.

The Marine Corps chopper, part of Marine Aircraft Group 39 based at

Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, was piloted by Maj. Samuel Leigh, 35, of Kennebec, Maine. The co-pilot was 1st Lt. Thomas Claiborne, 26, of Douglas, Colo.

The missing Coast Guard plane and the personnel who had been aboard it

were from Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento.

The pilot of the Coast Guard plane was Lt. Cmdr. Che J. Barnes, 35, of

Capay, a small town north of Sacramento. The plane was co-piloted by Lt. Adam W. Bryant, 28, of Crewe, Va.

Also onboard were: Chief Petty Officer John F. Seidman, 43, Stockton;

Petty Officer 2nd Class Carl P. Grigonis, 35, Mayfield Heights, Ohio; Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason S. Moletzsky, 26, Norristown, Pa.; Petty Officer 3rd

Class Danny R. Kreder II, 22, Elm Mott, Texas; and Petty Officer 2nd Class Monica L. Beacham, 29, Decaturville, Tenn.

“These brave men and women dedicated their lives to ensuring our

safety and today we are tragically reminded of the dangers they face while protecting our state and nation,’’ Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said. “Maria and I join all Californians in expressing our respect and gratitude for their service and sadness over their deaths.

“Together we send our thoughts and prayers to their families and

friends,” he said in a written statement. “Our hearts are with them during this difficult time.”

Investigators were trying to determine if any distress calls were made

from the chopper or Coast Guard plane. The pilots of both aircraft may have been relying primarily on their vision, rather than instruments.

At Camp Pendleton and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, leaders of the

3rd Marine Air Wing suspended all flights through the weekend so they could reemphasize safety measures.

The two aircraft were in what the military calls Warning Area 291, a

swath of airspace designated by the Federal Aviation Administration for military exercises, and pilots are supposed to notify ground controllers when they enter it.

On May 5, two Miramar-based Marines were killed when their Super Cobra

helicopter crashed during a training flight when the transmission cover came off and hit the tail rotor over the Cleveland National Forest, about six miles east of Pine Valley.

On May 19, five crew members aboard a Navy HH-60H Seahawk helicopter

died when their aircraft crashed into the ocean about 15 miles south of Point Loma. The cause of the second crash has been kept secret.