Salvage Ship, Sonar Scanning Pacific Waters for MH-60S Helicopter in Fatal Mishap

September 17, 2021 5:15 PM
Undersea support ship HOS Dominator. MSC Photo

For a third day, a salvage ship contracted by the Navy on Friday was scanning an area of the Pacific Ocean southwest of San Diego, Calif., to locate an MH-60S Knighthawk helicopter that sank Aug. 31 during aircraft carrier operations.

The 240-foot offshore supply vessel HOS Dominator left Naval Base San Diego on Wednesday and soon began the work of finding the downed helicopter and recovering the aircraft and five missing sailors with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 8. The vessel, owned by Louisiana-based Hornbeck Offshore, Supervisor of Salvage and Diving (SUPSALV)

“The exact location and depth of the wreckage has not yet been determined, though we estimate that it lies between 4,000 and 6,000 feet,” U.S. 3rd Fleet said in a statement.

Aboard Dominator are Navy personnel with Naval Sea Systems Command’s Supervisor of Salvage and Diving (SUPSALV) and two specialized equipment for deep-water salvage that were transported to San Diego and installed aboard the vessel for the search and salvage mission: SWISS or the Shallow Water Intermediate Search System and its towed side scanner and Towed Pinger Locator 25, or TPL-25.

Sailors who are presumed dead after an Aug. 31, 2021 MH-60S Knighthawk crash off the coast of California. USNI News Photo Illustration

SWISS uses a towed, torpedo-shaped, side-scanning sonar that can search waters as deep as 8,000 feet. TPL-25 is a towed, fish-shaped device that passively listens for emergency relocation pingers – such as those on aircraft data flight recorders – located as deep as 20,000 feet underwater.

“We’re going to search first. Then we will bring up other equipment” to recover the aircraft and any remains of the lost crew, Lt. Samuel Boyle, a 3rd Fleet spokesman, told USNI on Friday. “I don’t want to speculate how long the search will take.”

The MH-60S Knighthawk of the “Eightballers” of HSC-8 was operating off the deck of USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) about 4:30 p.m. Aug. 31 when it experienced some kind of malfunction and it crashed into the Pacific, according to the Navy. The carrier was operating about 60 miles southwest of San Diego, Calif., at the time.

One sailor in the Seahawk was rescued from the ocean before the helicopter sank, and five sailors working on the carrier’s flight deck were injured in the mishap.

But five crew members aboard the helicopter were lost when the aircraft sank. After lengthy search-and-rescue efforts, the Navy later declared them deceased, and officials vowed to recover their remains and the aircraft to help determine what went wrong.

The lost crew members are: Pilot Lt. Bradley A. Foster, 29, of Oakhurst, Calif.; pilot Lt. Paul R. Fridley, 28, of Annandale, Va.; Naval Air Crewman (Helicopter) 2nd Class James P. Buriak, 31, of Salem, Va.; HM2 Class Sarah F. Burns, 31, of Severna Park, Md.; and HM3 Bailey J. Tucker, 21, of St. Louis, Mo.

Last year, Dominator was called into action and recovered the remains of seven Marines and one sailor along with their amphibious assault vehicle that sank at about 385 after taking on water returning to ship off San Clemente Island. The merchant vessel, chartered by Military Sealift Command, is contracted for use by San Diego-based Submarine Squadron 11 and the Navy’s Undersea Rescue Command and is based at Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado, Calif.

Gidget Fuentes

Gidget Fuentes

Gidget Fuentes is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She has spent more than 20 years reporting extensively on the Marine Corps and the Navy, including West Coast commands and Pacific regional issues.

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