A deep-sea search began on Sept. 15 to retrieve the remains of five sailors and the wreckage of the Navy MH-60S helicopter that crashed on Aug. 31 off the coast of southern California, according to a statement from the Navy. Personnel from the Naval Sea Systems Command Supervisor of Salvage and Diving (SUPSALV) arrived at the presumed area of the wreckage along with the offshore supply ship Dominator, which has been used for similar recovery missions in the past. The exact location of the wreckage has not yet been confirmed.
The aircraft is believed to be between 4,000 and 6,000 feet below the ocean’s surface, a contributing factor to why the recovery operation didn’t take place sooner. In order to begin search efforts in earnest, the Navy had to bring specialized equipment capable of searching deep waters so far from the shore. SUPSALV, which specializes in underseas search and salvage, had to mobilize resources from around the country. With these resources, SUPLSALV is capable of searching ocean depths up to 7,000 feet, according to the statement from the Navy, but have previously recovered a downed helicopter from as deep as over 19,000 feet.
The Dominator, based in Naval Air Station North Island, uses a sonar scanner and a towed pinger locator to identify sunken objects, and is typically used for submarine recovery. It was previously deployed on another recovery mission near San Clemente, California in 2020, identifying and retrieving a sunken Assault Amphibious Vehicle and the bodies of seven Marines and one sailor, according to Marine Corps Times. Once the aircraft is located, larger recovery equipment will be deployed to retrieve it, a Navy spokesperson said.
Last month, the Navy Sea Hawk had been trying to touch down aboard aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln when “side-to-side vibrations” caused the aircraft to strike and fall off the ship. Five sailors were killed during the incident; Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Bailey Tucker, Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Sarah Burns, Naval Air Crewman (Helicopter) 2nd Class James Buriak, Lt. Paul Fridley and Lt. Bradley Foster. One crewmember survived the crash and was rescued that day, according to the San Diego-based U.S. 3rd Fleet.
Though search and rescue efforts began soon after the crash and persisted for several days following the crash, the missing sailors were declared dead by the Navy the following Saturday.