Published reports say a family in Illinois has been notified of the disappearance of a Marine who fell from an Osprey aircraft during a training mission in Bladen County. The reports say the family of Steven Hancock of Coal City, Illinois was told by military officials that he was missing.
The Morris Daily Herald reported on it's website Steven's mother notified friends and family Tuesday afternoon their son was the one who fell from the aircraft: http://bit.ly/1odffRI. The Marine Corps policy is to not release the identity until 24 hours after notification of next of kin, although officials on the ground in Bladen County did confirm Tuesday evening that the Marine who fell from the Osprey was found dead in some woods off Highway 701 and Carter Blueberry Road near White Lake.
Lt. Hector Alejandro with the USMC made the announcement during a press conference Tuesday evening. Alejandro said the body was found reasonably close to the flight path the MV-22B Osprey used during the training mission Monday night.
"The flight tracking information was useful and lead us to the body," Alejandro said.
Alejandro said a thorough investigation is underway to try and find out what happened and why it took so long for anyone on board the aircraft to notice the marine was missing.
"It's unfortunate the length if time it took and honestly we don't know how long it was. That's under investigation too," Alejandro said.
The Marine Corps released this statement in relation to the passing of the Marine.
"We deeply mourn the loss of a member of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing family today. I'd like to extend my sincerest condolences to the family and loved ones of our Marine," said Maj. Gen. Robert Hedelund, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing commanding general. "I also want to extend my thanks to the community for their tireless efforts throughout this search. Without your cooperation, we could not have brought closure to this phase of such an unfortunate incident."
The body was spotted via aircraft and that information was relayed to ground search parties.
The body was found near the intersection of HWY 701 and Cater Blueberry Road north of White Lake according to Bladen County Coroner Hubert Kinlaw, about five minutes away from where search parties originally began looking.
Lt. Col. Christian Harshberger with Marine Aircraft Group 26 said the Tuesday search is still being carried out as a search and rescue mission. There are 10 helicopters assisted by 100 Marines on the ground searching the area.
Harshberger said the cargo bay door remains open during training operations like the one that was taking place. Standard operating procedures show that Marines are always tethered while on the aircraft.
Rescuers attempted using the missing Marine's cell phone to try and ping his location, but because the Marine has AT&T the service was not optimal for locating him according to officials.
According to Bradley Kin law, Bladen County Emergency Management Director, the aircraft was doing touch and goes as part of a normal training mission at the airport in Elizabethtown. About half a mile past White Lake the crew noticed that a Marine was missing.
Kinlaw says that the search plan for Tuesday will start at the west bank of White Lake through two miles of woods and blueberry farms, and up to near Autrytown road. The Marine Corps is conducting the search with local responders. Crews have set up a base in Bladen County, between White Lake and Bay Tree Lake as part of their efforts.
Harshberger said crews are using four helicopters to aid in the search for the missing Marine. Harshberger says hundreds of Marines are on their way via bus and aircraft from Jacksonville to help search crews.
Officials are using the Osprey's flight path data to help form a map to refine the search area so crews can search as accurately possible. Officials have also notified local land owners to help aid in the search.
Mike Barton, Public Affairs Director for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, says that they cannot identify the Marine at this time due to privacy regulations; however the Marine was a crew member of the aircraft that was conducting a training flight at the time of the mishap. The aircraft the Marine fell from was an MV-22B Osprey tilt rotor aircraft.
Barton did not have any information on how many Marines were on board the aircraft when the incident happened. He said since the Osprey is a transport aircraft, it can carry just a crew or a crew and additional passengers.
When asked if the Marine would have any kind of homing beacon or signal generator to lead crews to a location, Barton said he was not aware of that being the case.
What caused the Marine to fall out of the aircraft or how it happened is still under investigation.
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