Underwater devices look for Army helicopter crew off Hawaii

By AUDREY McAVOY and CATHY BUSSEWITZ


HONOLULU (AP) ó Army officials have spent days sifting through chunks of Black Hawk helicopter debris in turbulent Pacific waters off Hawaii but have yet to see any signs of life in their search for five soldiers missing since the aircraft crashed during nighttime training on Tuesday.

The U.S. Coast Guard said Friday it is searching up to 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the remote point where the Black Hawk helicopter crashed west of Oahu. Firefighters found and collected what appeared to be pieces of helicopter fuselage and a helmet.

The Navy brought remotely operated underwater vehicles and sonar to help in the search.

Shifting waters and swift currents spread debris from 2 miles (3 kilometers) off shore on Tuesday night to an expanded search area of at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) on Thursday.

Master Sgt. Peter Mayes, a spokesman for the 25th Infantry Division, said all five crew members had life vests and an air bottle for underwater breathing. There was no life raft on board the helicopter, however. Thatís because operating procedure only calls for rafts when non-crew member soldiers or people without life vests are on board.

All Black Hawk crews undergo underwater crash and survival training before they come to Hawaii, Mayes said. Soldiers simulate being on board a helicopter thatís crashed into the water and learn how to free themselves.

Mario Vittone, a retired Coast Guardsman and expert on sea survival, said the length of the search will depend on the likelihood of finding someone alive.

In colder areas where ocean temperatures are below 60 degrees, a search would be over in 24 to 36 hours, even if no one was found. But in Hawaii, where ocean temperatures are often over 75 degrees and air temperatures are also warmer, people can survive longer and searches will last longer, Vittone said.

How long people survive depends on their age, weight and health in addition to the weather.