A massive search continues off the Southern California coast for survivors of the midair collision between a Sacramento-based Coast Guard plane and a Marine helicopter, but a Pentagon spokesman said Friday that it's unlikely any of the nine people aboard survived.
"The search is still on, but it's likely taken the lives of nine individuals," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman, adding that the crash was a "tragic event."
The comments in came as numerous Navy and Coast Guard ships and aircraft maneuvered over a debris field 15 miles east of San Clemente Island, near where Coast Guard plane 1705, a C-130 Hercules search-and-resuce plane, had been operating Thursday night.
The plane and seven crew members took off from the Coast Guard station at McClellan Air Park in Sacramento's North Highlands neighborhood at about 3:30 p.m., Lt. Randall Black said this morning.
They arrived off the San Diego coast at about 4:45 p.m. to search for a rower who had been missing for two days after setting out in a 12-foot dinghy for Catalina Island. The plane was searching over the San Clemente area in the theory that ocean currents may have taken the rower there.
At about 7:10 p.m., the huge aircraft collided with one of four Marine Corps helicopters that were flying out of Camp Pendleton on a training mission.
Eyewitness accounts from a pilot indicated the collision caused a large fireball over the ocean, and so far all that has been found in the area is a debris field.
Marine Corps and Coast Guard officials said they did not know how the collision occurred. Conditions were clear, although it would have been dark at the time of the crash.
Search-and-rescue planes like the C-130 may fly very low -- at altitudes between 100 feet to 2,000 feet, according to Coast Guard Petty Officer Mathew Schofield in San Diego. A Coast Guard official at an 11 a.m. briefing in San Diego said he believed the C-130 was operating at 900 to 1,000 feet.
The Sacramento unit has about 200 people and four C-130s, and officials there this morning were keeping in contact with families of the seven crew members and trying to determine whether any had survived.
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