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Investigation Continues Into Crash Of Black Hawk Military Helicopter In Fla.


There is a search underway in Northwest Florida after an Army helicopter crashed last night. Human remains have washed ashore and 11 service members are feared dead. The Black Hawk helicopter went down during a nighttime training mission, as NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Search and rescue teams have had to battle fog near Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle. The Coast Guard has small boat crews working in the Santa Rosa Sound, a waterway off the Gulf of Mexico. And local search teams have been walking the beach in formation looking for remains and debris from the crash. Eglin spokeswoman Sara Vidoni says despite evidence that some on board perished, rescue teams are still looking for survivors.


SARA VIDONI: Human remains have washed up on shore but we do not have the number of remains at this time and this is an active search and rescue mission.

ELLIOTT: She says an investigation is underway to determine what caused the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter to crash Tuesday night. Visibility was low.


VIDONI: There was heavy fog within the area at the time, but we don't have any proof at this time or - you know, obviously it's still under investigation as to whether that was the cause.

ELLIOTT: On Capitol Hill today, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said the mission involved both National Guard soldiers and Marines.


ASH CARTER: We know there were four air crew - Army - from a National Guard unit in Hammond, La. and seven Marines assigned to Camp LeJeune, North Carolina onboard that helicopter and our thoughts and prayers are with them and their families as the search and rescue continues.

ELLIOTT: Two helicopters from the Louisiana National Guard initially took off on the training mission according to Major General Glenn Curtis. He says one returned due to the weather while the other never came back. Curtis says the pilots were highly experienced instructors with thousands of hours. The Coast Guard was alerted to the crash at about 11 o'clock Tuesday night. Chief Petty Officer Bobby Nash says the Coast Guard has identified the general region where the Black Hawk went down.


CHIEF PETTY OFFICER BOBBY NASH: And we did find some debris that was consistent with the military aircraft at approximately 1:30 this morning. We have had Coast Guard units on scene the entire time since then and we've been diligently looking within that 17-by-3 mile area.

ELLIOTT: Local and state teams are also helping in the search. Santa Rosa County Deputy Rich Alloy says the crash is a blow for a region long accustomed to hosting the military.


RICH ALLOY: The military is such a huge part of our community. We're surrounded by three - four different major military installations and it's really a way of life here in Santa Rosa County.

ELLIOTT: President Obama spoke with defense leaders about the accident. A spokesman says he's confident there will be a detailed and thorough investigation. The president also expressed his condolences to the families and fellow service members of those killed. Debbie Elliott, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.