Survivor Says Helicopter Came in Too Low With AM-Gulf Rdp Bjt
MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) _ A survivor of the U.S. helicopter crash in the Persian Gulf was quoted Friday as saying the chopper’s landing approach to the USS LaSalle was too low and it crashed into the side of the command ship.
Rescuers continued searching for three men still missing in Thursday’s crash. Another crewman was killed and five were rescued, one hospitalized in serious condition.
Pentagon spokesmen in Washington said the chopper was on a routine flight ferrying equipment and personnel from a land base to the LaSalle. The base was not identified but appeared to be Bahrain, where the Navy has berthing facilities.
Radio operators on the LaSalle, command ship of the U.S. Mideast Task Force, were reached by The Associated Press in a ship-to-shore telephone call but refused to give details of the rescue operation.
Hospital officials quoted one of the survivors, Lt. Cmdr. Walter F. Fitzpatrick III, 35, of Ventura, Calif., as saying the SH-3D Sea King came in too low. They said he reported seeing flames and being dumped into the water.
Doctors treating Fitzpatrick said he was in good condition, but hospital officials would not let journalists speak to him. Doctors and hospital personnel spoke on condition of anonymity.
The American officer suffered a dislocated shoulder and minor burns. He was flown to this central Persian Gulf emirate during the night along with another crash victim.
Fitzpatrick was at a Bahrain military hospital and Army Staff Sgt. Adrian W. Garrison, 33, Robinwood, Ala., was taken to the Salmaniya Hospital and put on a respirator. He was listed in serious but stable condition with undisclosed injuries.
CBS News said the helicopter’s rear rotor hit the LaSalle, causing the crash. Pentagon officials in Washington said they could not confirm that.
Diplomatic sources said the helicopter lost power, hit the ship and plunged into the water upside down.
A U.S. Navy investigation has begun. Pentagon officials stressed that the crash was an accident and said there was no sign of hostile activity in the area.
An official at the Pentagon, speaking privately, said some portion of the helicopter apparently struck the LaSalle’s right side, but ″we still don’t know what happened. The investigation is continuing.″
The Lasalle, a lightly armed communications ship, and the destroyer Kidd scouted the area all Thursday night looking for the missing men, the diplomatic sources said.
Search operations continued at daybreak under improved weather conditions. The helicopter crashed at sunset Thursday in rough and windy seas.
Salvage executives who operate tugboats in the gulf said they believed the LaSalle was about 40 to 50 miles north of Bahrain at the time.
What the LaSalle and Kidd were doing in the area was not immediately clear.
The LaSalle is the flagship for Rear Adm. Harold Bernsen, who oversees U.S. Navy operations in the gulf, including the escort of U.S.-registered Kuwaiti tankers flying the American flag.
Some sources said the warships may have been checking the route the tankers Bridgeton and Gas Prince will take on their 500-mile return voyage from Kuwait through the Strait of Hormuz. The Bridgeton hit a mine last week on the first convoy trip north.
The U.S. Central Command in the United States identified the man killed in the crash as the co-pilot, Lt.j.g. James F. Lazevnick, 25, of Paulsboro, N.J.
It said the missing were Lt. William E. Ramsburg, 31, of Scotland, S.D., the pilot; radioman 2nd class Albert B. Duparl, no age given, of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Air Force Lt. Col. Horace S. Gentle, 44, of Mooresville, N.C.
Those injured were Fitzpatrick, hospitalized in good condition; Garrison; aviation technician 2nd class Robert G. Winslow, 27, Lincolnville, Maine, treated for minor injuries and released; Air Force Staff Sgt. Jay J. Crowe, 28, New London, Conn., treated for minor injuries and released.
Listed as uninjured was Airman Curtis Lowe, 27, Arlington, Wash.