May 15, 2015
The wreckage of a U.S. military helicopter lost on an earthquake relief mission was found today, high on a mountainside in Nepal, with three bodies spotted and the other five people on board presumed dead.
A U.S. search team identified the wreckage as that of the missing Marines UH-1Y Huey helicopter deployed after the Himalayan state was hit by a massive earthquake last month that killed more than 8,000 people.
Crash debris was found just 8 miles (13 km) north of the town of Charikot, said Army Major Dave Eastburn, spokesman for the U.S. military’s regional Pacific Command.
“The assessment of the site is ongoing and a thorough investigation will be conducted,” he added in a statement.
“The wreckage of the helicopter was found in pieces, and there are no chances of any survivors,” Nepal’s defense secretary, Iswori Poudyal said. He did not give the nationalities of the three victims, only saying their remains were charred.
The helicopter was carrying six Marines and two Nepalese army soldiers.
Lt. Gen. John Wissler, commander of the Marine-led joint task force, told reporters in Kathmandu that his team could not immediately identify the cause of the crash or identify the bodies found.
“It was very severe crash, and based on what we saw in the condition of the aircraft, we believe there were no survivors,” he said. “Due to the extremely difficult terrain of the site of the mishap, below-freezing temperatures and violent winds and thunderstorms, I made the decision to cease the recovery efforts for this evening,” he said. “We cannot afford to put US or Nepalese service members at any further risk.”
The recovery mission will resume at first light Saturday.
The discovery of the wreckage, first spotted by Nepalese ground troops and two army helicopters this morning, followed days of intense search involving U.S. and Nepalese aircraft and even U.S. satellites.
The Huey was spotted near the village of Ghorthali at an altitude of 11,200 ft (3,400 m), Nepal Army’s Major General Binoj Basnyat told Reuters earlier, as helicopters and Nepali ground troops converged on the crash site. “It was found on a steep slope,” he added, explaining that Nepali and U.S. teams were investigating the site and were expected to announce their findings at news conferences later today.
The area’s tallest peak soars to more than 7,000 meters (23,000 ft). Hillsides are cloaked with lush forest that made it hard to find the chopper even though it came down just a few miles from Charikot, the capital of Dolakha district that lies half a day’s drive to the east of Kathmandu.
Charikot is also an army base, serving as a hub for operations to airlift and treat those injured in the two earthquakes.
The first quake, which struck on April 25 with a magnitude of 7.8, has killed 8,199 people. The death toll from a 7.3 aftershock on Tuesday has reached 117, with many victims in Dolakha. The combined toll is approaching the number of just over 8,500 who died in an earthquake in 1934, the worst ever natural disaster to hit the poor Himalayan nation. Some 76,000 more have been hurt while hundreds of thousands of buildings - including ancient temples and monuments - have been damaged or destroyed. Nearly three weeks after the first quake, aftershocks continue to rattle the country.
Nepal mobilized 600 soldiers to search for the Huey. It went missing after the crew was heard over the radio saying that the aircraft was experiencing a fuel problem.
Two more U.S. Hueys, two MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor planes and Nepali and Indian choppers had been involved in the search for the helicopter, which was part of a joint task force sent in by the United States to provide assistance at Nepal’s request.
The UH-1Y Venom helicopter was assigned to part of the Marine Light Attack Squadron 469, based in Camp Pendleton, California.