Exclusive: Hickam pilot talks about witnessing Coast Guard chopper crash

Lt. Col. Lynn Winward
Lt. Col. Lynn Winward

By Leland Kim - bio | email

HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE (KHNL) -  Rescue crews searched up and down the southern coast of Oahu Friday for any sign of the missing crew member of the Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphin helicopter, that crashed Thursday night during a training exercise.

Hickam Air Force Airmen witnessed it in the air.  They went from conducting a training exercise to helping out with a search and rescue mission.

The Coast Guard does something it's not used to; conducting a search and rescue mission on one of its own aircraft.

Since Thursday night, the Coast Guard and its supporting agencies looked for signs of a crew member missing since his Dolphin helicopter crashed about five miles off of Honolulu International Airport.  Three others on the aircraft are dead.

Friday morning, the Honolulu Fire Department continues to help out with the search efforts.

"And as we encounter debris, we're mapping it, and retrieving it if appropriate," said Capt. Terry Seelig, a spokesperson with the Honolulu Fire Department.  "And that's being transferred through the Coast Guard."

The crash, first for the Coast Guard, since 1982, was witnessed by Hickam Airmen, who were conducting a training exercise of their one in a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III aircraft similar to this one.

"Over the area there, we were able to locate what we suspected to be the site and then we were able to pass on those coordinates to inbound helicopters and vessels in the water as well," said  Lt. Col. Lynn Winward, an Air Force pilot who was flying the C-17 Thursday evening.

It's something the five Airmen weren't expecting.

"We were able to offer our assistance, help coordinate care, keep everything safe and to offer assistance the best way we could," said Lt. Col. Winward.

They were training with night vision technology, which helped with search and rescue efforts.

"We were able to locate things not only in the water, but keep the other aircraft in sight," said Lt. Col. Winward.  "And contribute immensely to the safety of the operation that we were participating in."

This is something this 16-year Air Force veteran isn't used to.

"Probably in my career, I've done it maybe one or two times," said Lt. Col. Winward.  "It's a very rare opportunity. It's not something we do every day."

So they're grateful they could help out their brothers and sisters of the Coast Guard.

"Here in Hawaii we train a lot especially with the Coast Guard," said Lt. Col. Winward. "So first and foremost our hearts and prayers go out to the Coast Guard and the families that have been affected."

The last time the Air Force trained with the Coast Guard was a recent as last month.  So, naturally, their hearts are also heavy this evening.