'Sundown' ceremony for aging Marine helicopter - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

'Sundown' ceremony for aging Marine helicopter

CH-53D helicopters in Kaneohe CH-53D helicopters in Kaneohe
A CH-53D helicopter A CH-53D helicopter
Col. Vinny Cavuto Col. Vinny Cavuto
Kenneth DeHoff Kenneth DeHoff

By Ben Gutierrez - bio | email

PEARL HARBOR (HawaiiNewsNow) - An aging Marine helicopter made its final flight to Ford Island at Pearl Harbor Friday for a "Sundown" ceremony marking its retirement.

The CH-53D is also known as the Sea Stallion. It's been a workhorse with the Marine Corps since 1969 in Vietnam, and it's flying its final missions in battle in Afghanistan. The fleet is being retired, including those that were stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe.

The Sea Stallion's history in Hawaii dates back 40 years. It's been a familiar sight in Hawai skies around the base, and was used for relief efforts immediately after Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai in 1992.

"It's a great aircraft," said Col. Vinny Cavuto, commander of Marine Aircraft Group 24 at Kaneohe. "As I speak right now, there are two of them flying in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan, and it's just the right thing to do to give them a proper sendoff."

It's also been described as a workhorse. "Everything from towing ships at sea to hauling troops and hauling heavy equipment, hauling cannons to combat zones," said Kenneth DeHoff, executive director of the Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor, where the helicopter will be placed on exhibit.

Dozens of people, including some retired marine pilots who've flown the Sikorsky-manufactured aircraft, were present for a dedication ceremony welcoming the helicopter to the museum.

It's  the same model helicopter that crashed in Kaneohe Bay in March of last year, killing a marine and injuring three others. Another Sea Stallion crashed in Afghanistan last month, killing six Hawaii-based marines.

"Aviation is inherently dangerous,' said Cavuto. "And unfortunately, mishaps do occur. Very remote, but they do occur from time to time, and it's unfortunate when they do."

There are still some Hawaii-based CH-53D's in Afghanistan, but they'll be retired in Arizona this fall.

The museum plans to clean up the helicopter, give it a new paint job and build exhibits inside the aircraft. When it's ready about a year from now, visitors will be able to go inside. "Most people get to see a helicopter in the sky," said DeHoff. "They don't get to see it on the ground, and to be able to get inside of it and play like they're a marine."

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