KANEOHE (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe is dealing with a tragedy. One man was killed, Cpl. Johathan D. Faircloth, 22, when a CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter crashed into Kaneohe Bay.
The three others onboard are now in stable condition at Queen's Medical Center. Their names are Kevin Hayles, 28, Clinton Collins, 37, and Ronnie Brandafino, 23. They have ankle and spine injuries but are expected to be okay.
The four-man flight crew recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan in October. They were conducting a routine training mission last night. They experienced a problem a short time after takeoff at 7:00 p.m. They put out a distress call and tried to return to base but didn't make it. The helicopter was at an altitude of about 300 feet when it started to come down. It crashed in the center of the sandbar in the bay.
Investigators have been out to inspect the wreckage but have not revealed what caused the crash.
A closer look at the helicopter shows just how violent the crash was. Half of the 21-ton aircraft crumbled to pieces. Now a big question will be retrieving what's left. The water at times is only ankle deep on the sandbar, making it virtually impossible for a boat to get right next to it without affecting the reef.
"How we would remove it, there are two options. If we can we'll get a crane out there, lift it up on a barge and bring it back here so the investigation team can continue with what they have to do. Or if they can't get a barge they may airlift it. That could be difficult depending on the tide and how much water is in the aircraft. It will be a heavy lift," said Lt. Col. Michael Antonio, Operations Officer and Deputy Base Commanding Officer.
There are also environmental questions. Hundreds of gallons of jet propulsion aid (JPA) fuel has leaked into the bay, however marines on base specializing in the environment have downplayed the impact from the fuel leak.
"Because of the weight, the lightness of the JPA, it dissipates quickly and the effects would be minimal," said Capt. Derrick George, Environmental Officer on base.
Minimal because Capt. George says the fuel sits on the surface of the water and evaporates in the sun. Still they are trying to contain any more leaks with booms around the wreckage.
The helicopter had two main fuel tanks each with a capacity of 680 gallons. One ruptured and all the fuel leaked out overnight. The other had a leak. Crews managed to retrieve 480 gallons that were inside before it went into the ocean.
Some people that live along the coast of Kaneohe Bay say their house shook when the helicopter came down.
"Although we're used to the military flying over our house this sound was very unique. It sounded like a distressing sound, which of course drew my attention. I went out to take a look right before the bird hit the sandbar and had its rough landing with a loud crash, a loud boom and a lot of spray and a lot of sand that got disturbed by the landing," said Joe Souza, witness.
"First we heard the helicopter and then we heard a big thud and then you couldn't hear the helicopter anymore," said Linda Seltenright, witness.
The coast guard is keeping boaters about 500 yards away from the crash site.
The Captain Bruce tour company had 90 customers booked today, but had to cancel them all because it takes tourists to that very spot where the helicopter went down.
The Marines want to retrieve the wreckage as quickly as possible but there is no timeline on when that will actually happen.