Wichita Falls soldier among missing following Army helicopter crash in Hawaii

Wichita Falls soldier among missing following Army helicopter crash in Hawaii
Published: Aug. 18, 2017 at 3:40 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 19, 2017 at 7:26 PM CDT
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(Source: Hawaii News Now)
(Source: Hawaii News Now)
Stephen Cantrell (Source: Cantrell Family)
Stephen Cantrell (Source: Cantrell Family)

NORTH SHORE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Wichita Falls family has been told their son is among the U.S. Army soldiers missing following a helicopter crash in Hawaii.

Stephen Cantrell is a 2003 graduate of Hirschi High School. The family is holding out hope that he and the others will be found alive.

The massive operation to find five missing aviators whose Army chopper crashed off Oahu's North Shore entered its fourth day Saturday, and officials stressed they were still on a search and rescue mission.

Shoreline rescue crews from the Kauai Fire Department have joined the long list of agencies currently searching for the soldiers.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Gov. David Ige were at the Haleiwa Boat Harbor on Friday morning for a closed-door update on the search efforts. They also offered their support and thanks to rescue crews.

"They truly are on the front line," said Mayor Kirk Caldwell. "They're our first responders and we need to help them to show them we care about them as much as they care about all of us."

The Coast Guard said Saturday that the search area for the missing chopper expanded up to 160 miles offshore from Kaena Point due to currents and swells in the area. Efforts are concentrated around an area 35 miles off shore, near the initial site of the crash.

Lt. Scott Carr, of the Coast Guard, said being in the water for many days would mean sun exposure and dehydration. But, he added, the five aviators are healthy and well trained.

"We're looking for motivated individuals in US Army soldiers who are trained in survival techniques," he said. "They're fit and would be very motivated to survive."

The Black Hawk helicopter crashed two miles off Kaena Point on Tuesday night during a routine training mission. And while there's been no sign of the missing aviators, "significant" debris has been recovered.

"We continue to emphasize this is a search and rescue missions," said Lt Col. Curtis Kellogg, public affairs officer with the 25th Infantry Division. "We're in constant contact with the families, providing them with routine updates and just letting them know we're here for them for anything they may need."

As search operations expand, the Coast Guard says over 61,000 square miles, or over 46,000 square nautical miles, have already been searched.

Military officials have not yet released the identities of the five individuals, but WYMT-TV, a CBS affiliate in Kentucky, has confirmed with family members that one of the people missing is Abby Milam, of Jenkins, Ky.

"She has such an impact on everyone she comes in contact with I feel like that's why so many people in this community, even though she hasn't been here in a long time, they're still hurt by this and they're scared to death," said friend Sabrina Flick. "They have all the hope and I still do, too."

Relatives have also confirmed that Brian Woeber, of Alabama, was on board.

Stephen Cantrell, of Wichita Falls, Texas, was also among those missing in the crash, according to Hawaii News Now's sister station KAUZ. Cantrell is a 2003 graduate of Hirschi High School.

The five who were on the helicopter when it went down west of Kaena Point are active duty soldiers — two pilots and three crew members — out of Wheeler Army Airfield's 25th Combat Aviation Brigade.

Debris from the helicopter is considered hazardous, and anyone who spots any that washes ashore is urged to call the authorities. The Coast Guard has also established a safety zone that extends five miles out from where the chopper is believed to have gone down.

Chopper went down half hour into flight

About 7 a.m. Wednesday, a portion of the chopper's fuselage was spotted in the water. Other parts of the chopper have also been recovered.

Army personnel lost contact with the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, half an hour after it left Wheeler airfield on a routine nighttime training mission. Coast Guard, Army, Navy, U.S. Marine and Honolulu Fire Department rescue crews were deployed to help in the search.

Among the resources being used for the search: A Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules airplane and MH-65 Dolphin helicopter from Air Station Barbers Point, an Army aircrew, and boats from the Coast Guard and Honolulu Fire Department. Ocean Safety crews are also assisting.

"We stand with our U.S. Army 'ohana during this difficult time," Gov. David Ige said, in a statement. "The state of Hawaii has offered its support as rescue and recovery efforts continue. Our thoughts are with the families and unit members of the soldiers on board."

At sunset, most of the air support in the search is being suspended. But boats from multiple agencies are continuing their efforts through the night.

Honolulu Fire Battalion Chief Paul Fukuda said some debris was recovered early Wednesday, including a helmet.

"It's so spread out and with the darkness, it's hard to say how big the debris field was," he said.

Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle added that there are still high hopes that the five will be found safe.

"Right now we're currently focused on the search for the missing crew members," Molle said. "These are trained aircrew, and we're working with our partners to saturate that area."

Aviators were on routine training mission

In addition to the search by air and sea, HFD said firefighters have walked the shoreline along Kaena Point, looking for any signs of wreckage.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources has closed Kaena Point to the public until further notice, meaning no vehicle, foot or bicycle traffic is allowed on roads and trails through the Mokuleia or Keawaula entrances.

Kellogg said that nighttime chopper training offshore — like what the Black Hawk air crew was participating in — is routine. The helicopter was flying with a second Army helicopter.

The search for the downed craft began immediately after the aircrew lost visual and video contact with the other helicopter, he said.

Earlier Wednesday, the winds offshore were about 11 mph with 2-foot seas. But by mid-day winds were at about 17 mph, and the Coast Guard was reporting 6-foot seas.

On Thursday, officials said there were 3- to 6-foot swells in the search area.

The UH-60 Black Hawk is a four-bladed, twin-engine utility helicopter manufactured for the Army by Sikorsky Aircraft starting in the 1970s.

The Army has 2,300 Black Hawk helicopters; the choppers are the branch's primary medium lift utility transport and air assault aircraft. The Army also uses Black Hawks for medical airlifting and to deliver emergency supplies during natural disasters.

The Black Hawk is used by 26 other countries besides the U.S., including Japan, Korea, China and the Philippines. Newer versions of the helicopter are designed to fly higher and can carry more than older versions.

The last military helicopter crash in Hawaii happened in January 2016, when 12 Marines were killed after two Super Stallion choppers went down off Haleiwa.

This is a developing news story. Please check back for updates.

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