Story by Karen Iwamoto on 08/24/2017SCHOFIELD BARRACKS The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search for five Soldiers in a UH-60 Black Hawk that likely crashed approximately 2 miles off Kaena Point at around 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 15.
"Our five Soldiers, who represent the best and the brightest of America, have not been found," Maj. Gen. Christopher Cavoli, commander of the 25th Infantry Division, said during a press conference, here, at noon, on Monday, Aug. 21.
The announcement shifted the mission from a search and rescue effort to a recovery and salvage effort. The official status of the Soldiers was changed from active duty to DUSTWUN, an acronym for "duty status whereabouts unknown."
Army officials did not confirm that the Soldiers were deceased.
The Soldiers were identified as follows:
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; and
Sgt. Michael L. Nelson (a photo is not available), 30, of Anitoch, Tennessee.
All were with Company A of the 25th ID's 2nd Battalion, 25th Inf. Regiment, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, and all were recipients of numerous awards and medals. Woeber had deployed to Afghanistan and Egypt, Cantrell had deployed twice to Afghanistan and once to Iraq, and Nelson had deployed twice to Afghanistan.
"Even as we grieve, we have a mission to do," Cavoli said. "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 do our best to bring those Soldiers home to their families. We owe our Soldiers and their families nothing less."
Extensive search effort
Rear Adm. Vincent Atkins, commander of the Coast Guard's 14th District in Honolulu, said the decision to suspend the search was difficult.
"It weighs heavily, particularly on the hearts of the Coast Guard," he said. "I want the families and the Soldiers of the 25th ID to know that your Coast Guard search and rescue crews, along with our partners from the Hawaii State Department of Land and Natural Resources, Honolulu Fire Department, Ocean Safety and Lifeguard offices, the Kauai Fire Department and the U.S. Navy, used all of our training and professionalism in this very dynamic situation to mount the best response possible."
Divers from a U.S. Navy Mobile Diving and Salvage Recovery unit are helping in the recovery and salvage efforts.
The Coast Guard has scoured a total of 96,110 square miles and launched more than 132 separate searches since the Black Hawk was reported missing to the Coast Guard at around 10 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 15, according to the Coast Guard. The search began off Kaena Point, but officials extended it west beyond Kauai and Niihau after consulting data from drift models.
Invaluable combat training
The Soldiers had been taking part in a routine nighttime flight training mission when another UH-60 Black Hawk that had also been training lost visual and radio contact with them at around 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 15.
That Black Hawk did a flyover and attempted to re-establish contact before returning to Wheeler Army Airfield and notifying the U.S. Coast Guard at around 10 p.m. on Tuesday.
"The lead helicopter did turn around to search immediately and followed all protocols," Cavoli said. "Suffice it to say, the pilot of the helicopter that remained after conducting the immediate search knew that he did not have all the things on board to launch a professional search and so called U.S. Coast Guard."
Cavoli said nighttime flight training is invaluable to Soldiers' readiness and will continue.
"It's important to have nighttime training in general because the techniques used to fly a helicopter at night are demanding and involve developing a great deal of experience with those techniques," Cavoli said. "Specifically, flying with night vision goggles under low illumination conditions is a demanding thing that requires the highest level of training.
"Absolutely we will continue to conduct nighttime training in general. We will have to train at night; we will continue to train at night. It's an absolutely necessary part of combat skills," he added.
The cause of the helicopter crash has not been determined. Teams from the Army's Combat Readiness/Safety Center in Fort Rucker, Alabama, are on the island to investigate the incident.
"(The Combat Readiness Center) is the primary organization for doing flight safety inspections for (the Army), so they will conduct an investigation to determine what went wrong," Cavoli said. "I do not know if the debris found so far is everything they need. I do know they will want more specific things as we go forward, and that's one of the objects of (the Navy) salvage operation."
The Coast Guard began finding debris from the Black Hawk on Wednesday, Aug. 16. As of Monday, Aug. 21, officials had found four Army helmets and debris of varying sizes from the Black Hawk.
Army officials did not confirm that the helmets belonged to the missing Soldiers.