High Surf Complicating Hawaii Search for 12 Missing Marines, Officers ID’ed

January 17, 2016 Updated: January 17, 2016
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HALEIWA, Hawaii—The high surf warning that has complicated the search for 12 Marines who are missing after two helicopters crashed off Hawaii was expected to persist Sunday.

The waves dispersed the debris and complicated the search, which was expanded to include waters off Oahu’s west coast. “It makes finding things incredibly difficult,” Coast Guard spokesman Lt. Scott Carr said.

Rescuers battled waves up to 30 feet Saturday, but winds decreased to about 10 mph.

The U.S. Marines Corps released the names of the 12 missing crew members late Saturday. Though based in Hawaii, the Marines were from various states.

The Coast Guard was notified late Thursday of the crash by a civilian who saw the aircraft flying then disappear and a fireball. Someone else reported a flare in the sky, Carr said. It was not clear if the fireball and the flare were the same.

The Marines were alerted when the CH-53E helicopters carrying six crew members each failed to return to their base at Kaneohe Bay following a nighttime training mission. Hours later, a Coast Guard helicopter and C-130 airplane spotted debris 2 1/2 miles off of Oahu.

A Navy P-3 airplane was scouring the ocean, along with helicopters from the Coast Guard, Army, Navy and Honolulu police and fire departments. Two Navy warships and two Coast Guard cutters were on the scene. Honolulu lifeguards on personal watercraft were also looking.

The Coast Guard was keeping people out of a wide zone that spanned about 30 miles of shoreline, citing danger from debris. The zone extended from the shore to 8 miles off the coast.

National Weather Service meteorologist Derek Wroe said Saturday that the surf peaked Friday afternoon and was slowly declining.

A storm about 1,500 miles to the north and northwest of Oahu was sending large swells to the islands, he said.

The transport helicopters were part of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Known as Super Stallions, they are the U.S. military’s largest helicopter, capable of carrying a light armored vehicle, 16 tons of cargo or a team of combat-equipped Marines, according to a Marine Corps website.

The Coast Guard initially reported that the choppers had collided, but Marine Capt. Timothy Irish said Friday that he did not know if the accident was a collision.

The helicopters normally carry four crew members, but this particular flight also carried one or two instructor trainers, Irish said. He did not know if they were teaching the crew or just observing.

On Saturday evening, the U.S. Marine Corps released the names of the missing officers. They are:

— Maj. Shawn M. Campbell, 41, College Station, Texas.
— Capt. Brian T. Kennedy, 31, Philadelphia.
— Capt. Kevin T. Roche, 30, St. Louis.
— Capt. Steven R. Torbert, 29, Florence, Alabama.
— Sgt. Dillon J. Semolina, 24,Chaska, Minnesota.
— Sgt. Adam C. Schoeller, 25, Gardners, Pennsylvania.
— Sgt. Jeffrey A. Sempler, 22, Woodruff, South Carolina.
— Sgt. William J. Turner, 25, Florala, Alabama.
— Cpl. Matthew R. Drown, 23, Spring, Texas.
— Cpl. Thomas J. Jardas, 22, Fort Myers, Florida.
— Cpl. Christopher J. Orlando, 23, Hingham, Massachusetts.
— Lance Cpl. Ty L. Hart, 21, Aumsville, Oregon.

The family of Orlando said it was grateful for people’s prayers. “We continue to monitor the ongoingsearch effort in Hawaii and are thankful for the hard work of the many federal and local heroes undertaking this search and rescue mission,” the family said in a statement released by the Massachusetts State Police.

Before Orlando joined the Marines, he was a counselor at a surf camp in Hull, Massachusetts, and is a “camp legend,” the South Shore Surf Camp said in a Facebook post. “He is mentally and physically strong with the ocean experience and skills needed to survive anything Mother Nature can throw at him.”

Hart lives on base in Hawaii with his wife. His former high school football coach and teacher, Alan Kirby, described Hart as a positive kid who always had a smile on his face and called him a quick learner on the gridiron.

The family of Roche believes he was one of the Marines aboard the helicopters. “We believe the Marinesand Coast Guard are doing everything they can to bring Kevin and his fellow Marines home safely, and we are grateful to everyone involved in the rescue,” said a family statement distributed by brother-in-law Anthony Kuenzel in St. Louis.

The uncle of Semolina said the 24-year-old wanted to be a Registered Nurse when he left the Marines. “He was waiting to hear from a school he had applied to and was hoping to hear next week,” said his uncle, Ryan Bachand.

Semolina is an impressive young man, respectful and positive, Bachand said. He had been a good football player at Delano, Minnesota, high school.

Here are some of their stories:

SGT. DILLON J. SEMOLINA, 24, OF CHASKA, MINNESOTA

The uncle of Minnesota native Sgt. Dillon J. Semolina said the 24-year-old wanted to be a Registered Nurse when he left the Marines.

“He was waiting to hear from a school he had applied to and was hoping to hear next week,” said his uncle, Ryan Bachand.

Semolina is an impressive young man, respectful and positive, Bachand said. He had been a good football player at Delano, Minnesota, high school.

The family still holds out hope that he and others missing will be found alive, Bachand said.

But as hopes have dimmed, Bachand said he would cherish memories of spending time with Semolina when Bachand was a fishing guide in northern Minnesota. “I was able to teach him how to fish,” he said.

A GoFundMe page to raise money to send Semolina’s parents to Hawaii to be near where Semolina went missing had raised nearly $10,000 from 226 people by late Saturday.

CPL. CHRISTOPHER ORLANDO, 23, OF HINGHAM, MASSACHUSETTS

Orlando’s family said in a statement released Saturday by the Massachusetts State Police that they are thankful to everyone for their love, concern and prayers. Orlando is a flight crew chief and a 2010 high school graduate from Hingham, outside Boston. His family said they are monitoring the search effort and are thankful for the hard work of search and rescue crews.

Before Orlando joined the Marines, he was a counselor at a surf camp in Hull, Massachusetts, and is a “camp legend,” the South Shore Surf Camp said in a Facebook post. “He is mentally and physically strong with the ocean experience and skills needed to survive anything Mother Nature can throw at him.”

CAPT. KEVIN ROCHE, 30, OF ST. LOUIS

The family of Capt. Kevin Roche, 30, praised rescuers for trying to find him and the other Marines aboard the helicopters.

“We believe the Marines and Coast Guard are doing everything they can to bring Kevin and his fellow Marines home safely, and we are grateful to everyone involved in the rescue,” said a family statement distributed by brother-in-law Anthony Kuenzel in St. Louis.

LANCE CPL. TY L. HART, 21, OF AUMSVILLE, OREGON

A man from Oregon is among the 12 Marines missing after two helicopters crashed off Hawaii.

The Marines identified him as 21-year-old Ty Hart from Stayton, Oregon. The Oregonian newspaper reported that he lives on base in Hawaii with his wife.

Family friend Christina Brown described Hart as upbeat and energetic and said he enjoys nature, boating and wakeboarding.

Hart’s former high school football coach and teacher, Alan Kirby, told the newspaper that Hart was a positive kid who always had a smile on his face and called him a quick learner on the gridiron.