At approximately 8:30 p.m. on March 10, 2015, a Louisiana Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed off the Navarre Beach near Pensacola, Florida. Eleven soldiers and Marines were lost, including the helicopter’s crew of four Guardsmen and seven Special Operations Marines.
The helicopter was one of two conducting training with the Marines on insertion and extraction missions using small boats and helicopters. They were training in the Santa Rosa Sound, which is a small section of the Gulf of Mexico ocean waters protected by a barrier island between Pensacola and Destin. The two helicopters departed from the Destin airport to the east, but the second helicopter turned back due to bad weather conditions in the area. The aircrews were well trained, experienced, and very conscious of the weather conditions. The cause of the accident is still under investigation by the U.S. Army’s Combat Readiness Center and assisted by the Louisiana National Guard and the Marine Special Operations Command.
Aircraft wreckage and human remains began washing ashore at approximately 1:30 a.m. on March 11, but Search and Rescue efforts were hampered by thick fog squatting over the fifty square miles of search area. The search continued for nearly two days, continually fighting against bad weather, but was turned over to recovery operations after the bodies of nine of the eleven Americans were found and the other two were presumed trapped within the wreckage underwater. A recovery/salvage crew was brought in out of Mobile, Alabama, but the weather continued to be difficult for operations through March 13.
The helicopter and Guardsmen were stationed in Hammond, La. as part of the 1-244th Assault Helicopter Battalion. The crew was described as seasoned veterans of two combat tours to Iraq and multiple humanitarian missions including lifesaving operations during Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.
The Marines were stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C. as part of the 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, which is less than a decade old and belongs to the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command. The Marines were also decorated combat veterans who served with distinction in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Though this was a training mission, these soldiers and Marines were practicing to do their difficult jobs under the stress of the most realistic conditions. They trained as they would fight and died as heroes to our nation. Rotor & Wing would like to express our deepest sympathies and prayers to the families of the Guardsmen and Marines. Our thoughts are with the Louisiana National Guard and MARSOC as they experience very difficult days. Most of all, we would like to thank the eleven American heroes who perished on March 10, 2015 for the valiant service they have given to our country and bid them Godspeed on their next journey—there are warm seats and sunny days awaiting their arrivals in Heaven.