One crew member has died and the Coast Guard and Navy are continuing to search for another sailor and the wreckage of the Navy helicopter that made an emergency landing in the Atlantic this morning about 20 miles east of Cape Henry.
Four of the five crew members were rescued, and Navy spokesman Cmdr. Mike Kafka said they were taken to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. One died there, two were listed in stable condition and the fourth was expected to be in surgery this afternoon. Capt. Todd Flannery, the commander of Helicopter Sea Combat Wing Atlantic, said at an afternoon news conference that families were with the sailors at the hospital.
Navy officials said they would not release any details about the crew member who died until 24 hours after relatives are notified.
Kafka said two MH-53 Sea Dragons belonging to the HM-14, a helicopter squadron based at Norfolk Naval Station, were on a training mission Wednesday morning. One of the helicopters had to make an emergency landing into the water after making a distress call about 10:45 a.m.
The second helicopter dropped a raft into the water and two of the crew members made it into the raft.
The four crew members were hoisted into Navy helicopters within an hour of the crash. The water temperature was about 42 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
The Coast Guard cutter Shearwater was nearby and made its way to the scene, and a second Coast Guard rescue boat was dispatched from Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek.
Crews from Helicopter Sea Combat Support Squadron 28 are conducting the search and rescue.The Coast Guard and Virginia Beach Fire-Rescue are assisting.
At the Norfolk hospital, Chris Geotz said he saw two Navy helicopters land outside the hospital and drop off two crew members each.
"They came in fast, that’s why I noticed,” said Geotz, an electrician who was working at the facility. “They started screaming. The first person was unconscious and his arms were dangling. The second person had his hands bandaged and his face was burned, but at least he held his hands up.”
Sea Dragons, assigned only to two Norfolk-based squadrons, are primarily used to clear mines from shipping lanes, but they are also the Navy’s preferred option for heavy-lift operations. Each helicopter costs around $50 million.
The service had planned to begin phasing them out in the mid-2000s, but without a viable replacement, it kept the Sea Dragons flying.
Following a fatal crash in 2012 during a heavy lift operation in Oman that revealed systemic problems in the Sea Dragon aviation community, the Navy has invested millions of dollars to upgrade and better maintain its remaining 29 Sea Dragon airframes, including adding more than 100 maintenance personnel to the two Norfolk-based squadrons. The Navy also enhanced Sea Dragon pilot training to include mountain flying exercises and installed new leadership at both squadrons.
Pilot reporters Cindy Clayton, Mike Hixenbaugh, Dianna Cahn, Lauren King and Gary Harki contributed to this report.
For updates, return to PilotOnline.com and read tomorrow's Virginian-Pilot.