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Navy releases name of missing helicopter pilot

Jan. 9, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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Navy helicopter crash searchers still optimistic
Navy helicopter crash searchers still optimistic: While one crewman is still missing following the Navy helicopter crash off Cape Henry on Wednesday, U.S. Coast Guard members are optimistic and not giving up any time soon.
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A helicopter hovers over the site of an MH-53E Sea Dragon that went into the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Henry, Va., on Wednesday. The search continued into Thursday for one of the five crew members — two died from injuries suffered in the mishap, one remains hospitalized and one was treated and released. (Fireman Samantha May/Coast Guard)
Coast Guardsmen aboard the cutter Shearwater assisted in the search for a missing crew member after a Wednesday-morning helicopter crash off Cape Henry, Va. The search has been suspended, Navy officials said Thursday afternoon. (Fireman Samantha May/Coast Guard)

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The Navy released the name of the crew member who remained missing following Wednesday’s MH-53E helicopter crash off Virginia Beach, Va. — agreeing to a request from his wife that came after media reports identified the pilot.

The Coast Guard suspended its active search Thursday for Lt. Sean Christopher Snyder, 39, of Santee, Calif., the only one of five crew members unaccounted for.

Two died Wednesday from injuries sustained in the crash: The helicopter’s other pilot, Lt. Wesley Van Dorn, 29, of Greensboro, N.C., had been in the Navy for six years; Naval Aircrewman 3rd Class Brian Collins, 25, of Truckee, Calif., had been in the Navy for two.

One of the surviving crew members has been released from Sentara Norfolk General Hospital and the other remains there in stable condition, Capt. Todd Flannery, commander of Helicopter Sea Combat Wing Atlantic, said in a Thursday press conference.

Members of the Snyder family “wish to express their deepest and sincere gratitude to the many men and women of the United States Navy, the United States Coast Guard and the City of Virginia Beach Fire and Rescue team who have diligently participated in the rescue efforts,” the Navy said in a Thursday evening statement. “We cannot begin to express our appreciation for their time and sacrifice.

“At this time, our hearts and prayers are for Sean’s recovery, the other families who have suffered loss, and for the health of the hospitalized sailors.”

Capt. John Little, Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads commander, said in a Thursday afternoon news conference that while the active search has been suspended, the cutter Shearwater remains on station to assist Navy assets.

The salvage ship Grasp and Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 have located the wreckage, according to a Thursday afternoon release.

The destroyer Jason Dunham, amphibious transport dock Mesa Verde and dry cargo ship Medgar Evers were still on station Thursday afternoon, according to Fleet Forces spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Reann Mommsen.

Virginia Beach Fire Department assets, which used side-scan sonar to locate parts of the wreckage, are no longer on scene, Mommsen said.

The MH-53E, assigned to Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 14, was operating with another Sea Dragon on Wednesday before making a 10:45 a.m. distress call and entering the water, Naval Air Force Atlantic spokesman Cmdr. Mike Kafka said.

The aircraft was completely submerged when a Coast Guard rescue crew arrived on scene, Little said.

The crew, two pilots and three aircrewmen, were conducting regular airborne mine countermeasure operations at the time of the crash, said Capt. Todd Flannery, head of Helicopter Sea Combat Wing Atlantic.

Flannery said he did not know whether safety issues that contributed to a fatal 2012 MH-53E crash in the Middle East were a factor. The Navy is investigating Wednesday’s crash; he said Thursday that he isn’t aware of any plans to ground the remaining helos.

“The MH-53E has been a workhorse for the Navy for over 30 years,” he said. “Over the last two years the Navy has invested significant resources, including money for training and equipment, to make sure that the service life for this aircraft continues to be viable.”

He said the board investigating the cause of the crash will consider the issues discovered in previous Sea Dragon crashes when making their final assessments and recommendations.

Mark D. Faram contributed to this report.

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