US navy copter crashes near Colombia
Updated: 2005-12-14 09:13
A U.S. Navy helicopter crashed in the Pacific Ocean off Colombia with three
aboard Tuesday, and the Colombian navy joined a search for the missing crew
members, U.S. and Colombian officials said.
The SH-60B Seahawk helicopter was within sight of the frigate USS DeWert when
it went down in the eastern Pacific, said Bill Austin, a spokesman for the U.S.
Naval Station at Mayport, Fla., where the troops were based.
"The helicopter didn't transmit any kind of distress call that we know of,"
Austin said, adding that the helicopter was conducting normal operations at the
time of the crash.
He said he did not know how far the helicopter was from the ship when it went
down, or whether it had just taken off or was returning.
The Colombian navy sent a marine patrol plane to join in the U.S. Navy's
search, said Colombian Adm. Jairo Pena, commander of Colombia's Pacific fleet.
"We received the report that it fell to the water inexplicably," Pena said,
adding that the accident occurred about 5 a.m., but that by Tuesday afternoon,
the search still had been fruitless.
He said the DeWert is part of a unit that usually carries out anti-drug
missions in international waters. "We are searching in a zone about 350 miles
from the Colombian coast," off the port of Buenaventura, Pena said.
Colombia is the world's largest cocaine producer and a major supplier of
heroin to the United States.
The crew members were assigned to the Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron
Light 48 based in Mayport, the U.S. Navy said in a statement, but did not say
what they were doing in the area.
Navy aircraft often fly counter-drug missions off ships in the area.
The U.S. has been helping the Colombian police and military battle the
country's drug gangs and have made several major arrests in recent years. The
Pacific coast of Colombia is a popular haven for drug smugglers, particularly
from the Ecuador border up toward Buenaventura, where there are few roads and
many inland waterways.
Since 2000, the United States has spent $4 billion for "Plan Colombia," a
joint U.S.-Colombia anti-drug program. The United States provides the Colombian
government with training, equipment and other aid under the project.
U.S.-made helicopter crashes in Colombia generally have involved U.S.-donated
helicopters flown by Colombian troops on military missions. Since 1999, six
U.S.-made Black Hawks have crashed in Colombia, killing at least 67 Colombian
soldiers and injuring 37.