Search for bodies ends after Army chopper crash off Florida kills 11

By Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Kaminsky

By Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Kaminsky

(Reuters) - Search teams stopped looking for more bodies after finding the wreckage of an Army Black Hawk helicopter that crashed during a nighttime training mission off Florida's Gulf Coast, killing all seven Marines and four soldiers on board, authorities said on Thursday.

With no hope of finding any survivors after more than 36 hours of searching, the U.S. Coast Guard said it had ended active efforts to look for the bodies of the service members not already recovered.

"With heavy hearts, we have decided to suspend active search and rescue operations," said Layne Carter, coordinator of the search and rescue mission. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and family of the members involved in this tragedy.”

Some human remains and debris have washed ashore after a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter carrying 11 service members plunged into the Santa Rosa Sound along the Florida Panhandle during a training exercise in foggy conditions Tuesday night.

The Louisiana National Guard said on Thursday that two of the soldiers' bodies had been recovered and the other two were likely still underwater in the wrecked aircraft.

Officials said they had not determined the cause of the crash. A second helicopter in the exercise turned back due to the weather and was able to land safely.

Persistent fog has hampered the search efforts, which began after officials at the nearby Eglin Air Force Base were notified of the crash at around 10 p.m. on Tuesday, said Mark Giuliano, fire chief at the base.

Sonar equipment helped locate the helicopter on Wednesday in the middle of the bay, Giuliano said.

“It was certainly a high-impact crash,” he said, adding the helicopter had broken into multiple pieces.

The Marines on board were part of a special operations unit from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. They were conducting training involving "helicopter and boat insertion and extraction," with an experienced Army air crew providing the helicopter support, a Marine Corps spokesman said.

The soldiers and the helicopter were part of the Louisiana National Guard assigned to an Army unit based in Hammond, Louisiana.

Grieving families have begun sharing the names of the dead, whose identities have not yet been released by the military. Among the dead Marines were Marcus Bawol, of Warren, Michigan, and Kerry Kemp, formerly of Port Washington, Wisconsin, local media reported.

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, N.C. and Jonathan Kaminsky in New Orleans; Editing by Bill Trott, Eric Beech and Eric Walsh)