SEATTLE — Investigators headed to La Push today to begin looking for the cause of a Coast Guard helicopter crash that took the lives of three crewmen and injured the fourth.
Coast Guard spokesman Nathan Bradshaw in Seattle said the work will eventually involve recovering the wreckage from the water.
The low-flying copter apparently hit power lines Wednesday and went down a few hundred yards off La Push, on the Olympic Peninsula.
The MH-60 Jayhawk was flying from Astoria, Ore., to Sitka, Alaska, where the crew was based.
The survivor is recovering from a broken arm and leg at Seattle hospital.
Rear Adm. Gary Blore, commander of the 13th Coast Guard district, said the cause of the crash is not known but that there were downed power lines on the beach near the helicopter’s wreckage.
Witnesses told local media that the helicopter was flying at a low altitude when it approached La Push, a small town on the Quileute Nation reservation.
Blore said it’s not unusual for Coast Guard helicopters to fly low. He said the power lines had been about 250 feet above the water level and the lines are marked in navigational charts.
Quileute tribal member Rio Jaime told the Peninsula Daily News that he saw the helicopter clip the power lines with its tail, sending it down to the water.
“It took us a little bit to realize that really happened,” he said. “It was like in the movies.”
News footage showed the orange color of the helicopter’s body with the wheels showing through the blue Pacific Ocean water. A rotor blade was also seen sticking out of the water.
The identities of the dead guardsmen were not immediately released Wednesday afternoon, pending family notification, Blore said. The lone survivor, who suffered nonlife-threatening injuries including a broken arm and leg, also was not identified.
Blore said the four- member crew of the MH-60 Jayhawk was flying from Astoria, Ore., to Sitka, Alaska, where they were based.
Around 9:30 a.m., the Coast Guard lost communication with the helicopter, prompting bases in Astoria and Port Angeles to launch search helicopters.
Members of the Quileute Nation who heard the crash rushed out to the water.
Darryl Penn, the harbormaster for the Quileute Nation in La Push, said he and three others raced out to the wreckage on two small boats and were able to reach two of the crew members, who were “pretty banged up.” He found one in the water with a wet suit on and the other in the wreckage.
“You know, these guys are out here for us, for the guys who fish,” Penn said. “When they go down, it’s scary.”
Three members were recovered by tribal members, who performed CPR on at least one of them.
Blore said all four crew members were found outside of the helicopter.
The crash “particularly hits home and certainly as a naval aviator,” Blore said, his voice breaking. “We’re saddened.”