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Navy recovers MH-60S helicopter, nearly 20,000 feet underwater, in new record

The Navy has recovered an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter that crashed into the Philippine Sea in January 2020 off the coast of Okinawa — and set a record while doing so.

The helicopter, assigned to the 7th Fleet command ship Blue Ridge, had been conducting routine operations at the time of the accident. Though all five crewmembers were rescued, the helo sank to the bottom.

The aircraft was hauled from a depth of 19,075 feet of sea water March 18, the Navy said in a news release Tuesday.

That depth of the recovery — more than 3.6 miles below the surface — established a new aircraft recovery record for Naval Sea Systems Command’s Supervisor of Salvage and Diving, the Navy said.

A Navy CURV 21, a 6,400-pound remotely operated vehicle used for deep ocean salvage, recovered a Navy MH-60S helicopter lost in January 2020 from the 7th Fleet command ship Blue Ridge. (Navy file photo)
A Navy CURV 21, a 6,400-pound remotely operated vehicle used for deep ocean salvage, recovered a Navy MH-60S helicopter lost in January 2020 from the 7th Fleet command ship Blue Ridge. (Navy file photo)

During North Pacific operations last spring, the Navy team located the Sea Hawk using side-scan sonar and photographs of the wreckage on the ocean floor.

At the request of the Navy Safety Center, which is investigating the cause of the accident, SUPSALV returned in March with CURV 21, a deep-water, remotely operated vehicle capable of conducting salvage operations at depths up to 20,000 feet. After bringing it aboard a contracted salvage vessel in Guam, they made the five-day voyage to the crash site.

The recovery operations were launched March 17. Using the CURV’s deep-lift take-up reel, the aircraft was successfully recovered the following day. The salvage vessel is bringing the helicopter to Fleet Activities Yokosuka in Japan so it can be returned to the United States.

“As a whole, this operation was fast-paced and entirely successful,” said Bryan Blake, SUPSALV’s deep ocean program manager, in the news release. “Our efforts validated the Navy’s deep ocean search and recovery requirements. The capability to recover the airframe and make it available to determine the cause of the accident is a huge plus, helping to ensure Naval Aviation safety.”

An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter from the Golden Falcons of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 12 launches from the flight deck of U.S. 7th Fleet flagship Blue Ridge on Tuesday in Sagami Bay. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Dylan McKay/Navy)
All crew members rescued!

The MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter went down in the Philippine Sea on Saturday evening.

The accident occurred at approximately 5:15 p.m. local time Jan. 25, 2020.

A Blue Ridge MH-60S helicopter retrieved two members of the aircrew and brought them back to the amphibious command ship, while a Japan Air Self-Defense Force UH-60 search and rescue helicopter recovered the other three before taking them to Naval Hospital Okinawa for a medical evaluation, the 7th Fleet at the time.

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