Search Crews Turn to Recovering Bodies, Wreckage
ARCATA, Calif. (AP) _ Search crews refocused their efforts Sunday to look for bodies and wreckage amid fading hopes of finding eight crewmen still missing from a military plane that crashed at sea.
Only one survivor from the Air Force Reserve plane has been pulled from the chilly Pacific Ocean waters, and two bodies have been recovered.
``We have officially changed the nature of the mission from a search and rescue mission to a search and recovery mission,″ said Air Force Reserve Col. Gene Garton, vice wing commander of the 304th Rescue Squadron in Portland, Ore. ``We are attempting to recover remains. We don’t expect there to be any survivors.″
Coast Guard and Air Force aircraft flew over the site of Friday’s crash off the northern California coast, and two Coast Guard cutters and a Navy frigate cruised the area searching and picking up floating wreckage.
The crashed plane, a four-engine HC-130 from the Oregon unit, was flying a training mission when the crew reported engine problems and total electronic failure.
Two hours after the distress call, a Coast Guard helicopter located the crash site 40 miles off Point Mendocino.
Under the light of a full moon, Tech. Sgt. Robert Vogel of Albany, Ore., was spotted wearing a survival suit and clinging to a floating seat cushion in the 52-degree water.
Vogel was in fair condition Sunday at a hospital in Arcata, where Air Force investigators went to interview him.
Vogel, a radioman on the aircraft, may have survived because the plane broke apart around him. Garton said the radioman’s seat would be against a major bulkhead at the rear of the flight deck. Also stationed on the flight deck are the pilot, co-pilot, navigator and flight engineer.
Small pieces of floating debris were brought to shore. A 40-foot section of wing, a piece of the nose and some wheels also were reported floating in the ocean.
Major pieces of the aircraft, such as the engines and fuselage, sank in about 4,200 feet of water and the head of the Air Force investigation team, Col. Chuck Cinnamon, said he didn’t know if there would be any attempt to recover them.
All 11 of those aboard the plane were from Oregon or southwestern Washington.
At the Portland Air Base, where the squadron was based, a critical incident stress team met Sunday to plan assistance for the victims’ families and fellow reservists.
The HC-130 is a variant of the C-130, a workhorse as a military cargo and search-and-rescue airplane. The plane has a wingspan of 130 feet and four turboprop engines.
The last crash of a C-130 was on Aug. 17, when one transporting Secret Service gear for a vacation trip by President Clinton crashed shortly after taking off from Jackson Hole Airport in Wyoming.