Marines, soldiers missing after Army helicopter crash

An Army helicopter went down during a night training exercise at an Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle.

Human remains have washed up on shore as authorities continue searching for the seven Marines and four soldiers aboard an Army helicopter that crashed over waters off Florida during a training mission.

While remains and debris from the UH-60 Black Hawk have been recovered, the operation remains a search and rescue mission, said Sara Vidoni, a spokeswoman for Eglin Air Force Base, where the crash occurred.

Multiple agencies, including the Coast Guard, are involved in the search, and the Coast Guard has secured the waterways, Vidoni said.

However, the outcome of the search could be grim.

A Pentagon official said Wednesday the 11 service members aboard the Black Hawk are presumed dead.

The official said Wednesday that the 11 service members are presumed dead and that the Coast Guard found debris in the water. The official spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the official wasn't authorized to speak on the record.

Andy Bourland, a spokesman for Eglin Air Force Base outside Pensacola, says the UH-60 Black Hawk from the Army National Guard was reported missing around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, and crews found debris around 2 a.m.

The Marines are part of a Camp Lejeune, North Carolina-based special operations group and the soldiers are from a Hammond, Louisiana-based National Guard unit, according to Eglin Air Force Base officials. The Louisiana guardsmen are members of the 1-244th Assault Helicopter Battalion.

The names of those involved have not been released.

An Okaloosa County ambulance sits at the Eglin Air Force Base entrance, near Fort Walton Beach, Fla., Wednesday, March 11, 2015. Seven Marines and four soldiers aboard an Army helicopter that crashed over waters off Florida during a routine night training mission were presumed dead Wednesday, and crews found human remains despite heavy fog hampering search efforts, military officials said. (AP Photo/Northwest Daily News, Devon Ravine)
An Okaloosa County ambulance sits at the Eglin Air Force Base entrance, near Fort Walton Beach, Fla., Wednesday, March 11, 2015. Seven Marines and four soldiers aboard an Army helicopter that crashed over waters off Florida during a routine night training mission were presumed dead Wednesday, and crews found human remains despite heavy fog hampering search efforts, military officials said. (AP Photo/Northwest Daily News, Devon Ravine)

An Okaloosa County ambulance sits at the Eglin Air Force Base entrance on March 11.

Photo Credit: Devon Ravine/AP

President Obama spoke with the military leaders involved Wednesday and said he's confident there will be a detailed and thorough investigation. He also expressed his condolences to the families and fellow service members of those killed, his spokesman, Josh Earnest, said.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Marines, soldiers and family members of those involved in this mishap. We are working closely with all parties involved to locate our Marines and the Army aircrew as soon as possible," said Maj. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Special Operations Command, in a statement.

A MARSOC spokesman, Capt. Barry Morris, said Marine critical skills operators arrived in the Gulf Coast area on March 8 for an annual exercise that included amphibious boat training and airborne insertion and extraction methods. He could not immediately confirm how many Marines were participating in the training, which was set to continue until March 15.

Morris said the exercise has been paused, though it's not clear whether the remainder of training will continue.

During a Wednesday morning hearing before the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on seapower, Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., asked Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth Glueck, commanding general of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, about the incident.

Glueck said the Marines and soldiers involved conduct a lot of training along the Florida panhandle. There is "indication there could have been a problem with weather," Glueck said. There was some fog in the area at the time of the crash.

Dense fog, a misty rain and darkness hampered search efforts. The crash scene is near a remote swath of beach between Pensacola and Destin. It's owned by the military and used for test missions.

Vidoni confirmed that there was heavy fog in the area Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning.

"The fog has actually just finally dissipated," Vidoni said.

She added that while "there was fog in the area, it is still under investigation, we do not know if that impacted the incident."