January 8, 2014 Updated: January 8, 2014 at 8:57 pm
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — A Navy helicopter with five crew members went down in the Atlantic off the Virginia coast during a routine mission Wednesday, killing one crew member and injuring three, the U.S. Navy said. Rescuers were still looking for a fifth person.
One of the crew members who was hoisted with three others from the chilly, 42-degree waters by a Navy helicopter died in a civilian hospital, the Navy said in a statement. The other three were being evaluated at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.
Their conditions were not known, the Navy said.
The Navy identified the aircraft as an MH-53E. The helicopter, assigned to Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron Fourteen based at Naval Station Norfolk, was conducting routine training operations at the time of the crash, the Navy said.
According to the Naval Air Systems Command website, the aircraft performs airborne mine countermeasures and onboard delivery missions. It holds a crew of up to eight, including two pilots and is capable of speeds of more than 170 mph.
The three-engine helicopter measures 99 feet long and more than 28 feet tall. It has a maximum gross weight of 69,750 pounds.
It was not immediately known why the chopper went down.
Coast Guard Petty Officer David Weydert said two Coast Guard vessels, including a cutter, responded to the scene.
The Navy said the identity of the dead crewman would be released 24 hours after his family was notified.
In July 2012, two crew members were killed when the same model helicopter crashed into a canyon in the Gulf nation of Oman while lifting a downed aircraft.
According to a Navy investigation obtained by The Virginian-Pilot in November, the crash of the $50 million helicopter revealed a series of problems within the Navy Sea Dragon program, which is headquartered in Norfolk. In that specific incident, the report blamed the crew for skipping preflight safety checks and for failing to develop a concrete plan for how and when to abort the mission.
But Capt. Todd Flannery, the commander of Helicopter Sea Combat Wing Atlantic, told the newspaper following the investigation that the Navy has invested millions of dollars to upgrade and better maintain its remaining 29 Sea Dragon airframes since the crash, including adding more than 100 maintenance personnel to the Norfolk-based squadrons.
The Navy had planned to phase them out beginning in the mid-2000s, but kept the Sea Dragons flying because the service had no viable replacement.