Editor’s note: This story was updated Nov. 12, 2023, at 5:58 p.m. EST with additional information. More recent reporting can be found here.
Five U.S. service members are dead after an American military helicopter crashed in the eastern Mediterranean Sea on Friday evening, U.S. officials confirmed Sunday.
The crew was conducting a “routine air refueling mission” during a training sortie when their aircraft suffered a mishap, U.S. European Command said in an emailed statement. All aboard were killed.
The New York Times reported all five service members were U.S. Army Special Operations forces. Lt. Col. Rob Lodewick, an Army spokesman, confirmed that information to Military Times, but referred additional questions to European Command.
The command first announced the accident on Saturday but declined to say what type of aircraft was involved.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed the downed asset was a helicopter in a statement on Sunday. The Pentagon has not specified to which branch of the armed forces the aircraft belonged.
“While we continue to gather more information about this deadly crash, it is another stark reminder that the brave men and women who defend our great nation put their lives on the line each and every day to keep our country safe,” Austin said. “They represent the best of America. We will remember their service and their sacrifice.”
The mishap prompted an “immediate” rescue effort that included nearby U.S. military aircraft and ships, European Command said.
The command did not provide further details about where in the region the plane went down.
However, the U.S. issued a flight notice early Saturday noting a “search-and-rescue operation in progress” in the span of sea between Cyprus and Lebanon.
Flight tracker @EISNspotter posted Saturday on X, formerly known as Twitter, that air traffic control in Cyprus had called in military support around midnight Saturday for a helicopter that crash-landed about 30 nautical miles from the island’s southern coast.
Planespotters on social media flagged multiple Navy P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance planes patrolling the water south of Cyprus on Saturday, as well as an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III — often used for aeromedical evacuations — departing the area.
It’s unclear whether the aircraft was training as part of routine operations in Europe, or if it was over the Mediterranean Sea as part of a deterrent force that has arrived in the region in recent weeks.
The Pentagon has rushed thousands of American troops to the Middle East as war unfolds between U.S. ally Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas, which controls the neighboring Gaza Strip.
Among those forces are the Navy’s Ford carrier strike group stationed in the eastern Mediterranean, U.S. surveillance aircraft gathering intelligence off of the Israeli coast and others spread around the region. The Eisenhower carrier strike group also passed through the Mediterranean on its way to the Red Sea earlier this month.
The military is investigating the cause of the mishap. It will not release the names of the deceased until 24 hours after their families have been notified, in accordance with Pentagon policy.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the fallen,” European Command said.
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of carrier strike groups stationed in the Mediterranean Sea. The number has been updated to one: the USS Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group.
Military Times News Editor Jessica Edwards contributed to this report.
Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.