The Wall Street Journal
By Nicholas Winning
Updated Jan. 8, 2014 4:28 p.m. ET
The bodies of four airmen killed when a U.S. Air Force helicopter crashed in English marshland Tuesday and the wreckage of their aircraft will remain on site for a second night so as not to disrupt evidence, police said Wednesday after investigators spent a day contending with difficult terrain and scattered munitions to work out what had happened.
The HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter from the 48th Fighter Wing at Lakenheath Royal Air Force base went down during a low-level training mission after dark Tuesday in a nature reserve on the Norfolk coast, some 130 miles northeast of London, police and the U.S. Air Force said.
Lakenheath, the largest U.S. Air Force-operated base in England, named the four crew in a statement as Captain Christopher Stover and Captain Sean Ruane, who were piloting the helicopter, and Technical Sergeant Dale Mathews and Staff Sergeant Afton M. Ponce, who were the special mission operators. The base press office declined to give their ages but said the next of kin had been notified.
U.S. Staff Sergeant Stephen Linch at Lakenheath said the U.S. Air Force had no information about the cause of the crash or details about the safety record and age of the helicopter, but added that it was the first time an HH-60G Pave Hawk had crashed since it began operating on the base in 2006. Colonel Kyle Robinson, 48th Fighter Wing commander, is scheduled to hold a news conference at the base at 0800 GMT Thursday.
Police said they continued to lead the investigation at the crash site on behalf of the local coroner, with assistance from the British Ministry of Defense's Air Accident Investigation Branch and the U.S. Air Force.
Chief Superintendent Bob Scully said Wednesday that the crash site was about the size of a soccer field and investigators faced a challenging and lengthy process because of the difficult terrain and the fact that ammunition had been scattered across the area.
Aerial footage of the site on BBC television showed debris and mangled metal strewed across the marshy area with no pieces that were recognizable as a helicopter. The area has been cordoned off while the investigation continues and was likely to remain out of bounds to the public for a number of days, the police said.
"There will be some tasks taking place during the hours of darkness, however, the aircraft and those who have died will remain in situ overnight as their removal could disrupt evidence," police said in a statement.
Lakenheath, some 70 miles northeast of London, is home to five squadrons of F-16 fighter jets and Pave Hawks. The helicopters are manufactured by Sikorsky, a unit of United Technologies Corp.
Frans Jurgens, a spokesman for Sikorsky, said the U.S. Air Force is looking to replace its aging fleet of HH-60G Pave Hawks, which were mostly delivered in the 1980s, but the contract depends on a budget review. Although they are an old aircraft, they have an exemplary safety record and have been used extensively in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.
"They fly where no one else goes," Mr. Jurgens said by phone from the company's headquarters in Stratford, Connecticut.
Officials at Lakenheath said the crews at the base that operate the Pave Hawk helicopters, a modified version of the Black Hawk used for search and rescue missions behind enemy lines, routinely train for low-level flights and night operations in all weathers.
A second helicopter from Lakenheath that was taking part in the same training exercise and landed on the site shortly after the crash will also remain there overnight so as not to disturb the scene, the police said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron sent his condolences to the families of those who had lost their lives. "Our thoughts should…go to the victims of the U.S. helicopter crash in Norfolk about which details are still emerging," he told parliament.
Matthew Barzun, the U.S. Ambassador to the U.K., said in a twitter message: "My thoughts & prayers are with the four U.S. airmen tragically lost in Norfolk last night & their families."
Live bullets are strewn across the scene of the helicopter crash at Cley as police and military experts probe the cause of the accident, which killed four USAF personnel.
Members of the public are being urged to stay away from the site on the marshes off Cley and Salthouse for safety reasons, and to allow the investigation to proceed unhindered.
The crash scene is the size of a football pitch, and police and military staff are at the scene - alongside a second helicopter, which was taking part in a military exercise when the other helicopter crashed.
A strict cordon remains in place around the Norfolk Wildlife Trust nature reserve, and those involved in the investigation include Ministry of Defence, Air Accident Investigation Branch, US Air Force and HM Coroner.
Two helicopters were involved in the training activity last night and following the crash the second aircraft landed nearby to assist.
Speaking from the scene, Chief Supt Bob Scully said: “The crash site is about the size of a football pitch, with difficult terrain which makes this a challenging and lengthy process.
“This is mainly on marshland although some debris which was close to the beach has been moved as it would be vulnerable to high tide.
“Further close examinations of the scene will take place this morning and the bodies of the deceased will be removed once this has taken place.
“The helicopter was carrying ammunition this was in the form of bullets which are scattered across the site, which is why the restrictions are necessary.
“We would like to thank the local community for their patience and understanding at such a challenging time and our thoughts remain with those affected by this tragic incident.”
Specialist military personnel will attend to assess the environmental impact while the A149 remains closed through Cley. Access to Beach Road and East Bank is also restricted and there is no coastline access to the crash site.
The crashed aircraft is a USAF Pave Hawk HH60 helicopter from RAF Lakenheath, which came down at the north end of East Bank at around 7pm.
Names of the airmen killed in the crash will be released 24 hours after next-of-kin notifications.
The aircraft, assigned to the 48th Fighter Wing, was performing a low-level training mission along the coast when the crash occurred.
A second helicopter from RAF Lakenheath was also in the area at the time of the crash and set down on the marshes to try to assist, this was within the cordon and so this aircraft remains at the scene while inquiries are ongoing.
A five-mile radius exclusion zone for any aircraft in the north Norfolk area has been put in place.
Due to the geography and the munitions from the crashed helicopter, inquiries into the cause of the collision, the recovery of the wreckage and second aircraft and an environmental assessment are expected to take a number of days to complete.
Last night people in the area spoke of their shock at the tragedy and told of hearing a “heavy and very unusual” sound overhead as the helicopter plummeted into marshland.
Peter and Sue Mcknespiey, who run Cookies Crabshop in Salthouse, heard what sounded like a helicopter and then jets flying overhead before becoming aware of fire engines, police and emergency services outside.
She said: “It just seemed an unusual thing. It didn’t seem normal because it was so low and they don’t fly low anymore.”
North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb said the crash was “utterly tragic”, adding: “My heart goes out to the families of the crew, and it is all the more difficult because I suspect the families are from a long way away and the news is just filtering through.
“It is highly traumatic too for the local communities but it was quite close to the villages and could have been even more horrific if it came down on buildings.”
Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service said six fire crews were in attendance until around 11.30pm.
A spokesman for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution said: “We were asked for three lifeboats to respond to reports that an aircraft had possibly ditched in the sea.
“Lifeboats Wells, Sheringham and Cromer were launched at the request of the coastguard but were stood down when it was confirmed that the aircraft had come down over land.”
The scene at Cley next the Sea after an American military helicopter crashed and another landed after the incident. What is thought to be some of the wreckage lies on the marshes.
PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY
(CNN) -- Recovery of the bodies of the four U.S. Air Force personnel who died Tuesday evening when their military helicopter crashed near Cley, on the North Sea coast of England, could take more than a day, an official said.
"You would be very much mistaken if you thought that this would be a quick process," Norfolk Constabulary Chief Superintendent Bob Scully told reporters.
"A lot hinges on our ability to understand what happened to the aircraft that crashed, and that includes the detailed investigation that needs to be done."
The U.S. Air Force Pave Hawk HH-60G helicopter, from a British base in Lakenheath, crashed in a nature preserve.
The Royal Air Force base said the crash occurred during an evening training mission while the helicopter was flying low.
Cley is 180 kilometers (about 110 miles) northeast of London.
Removal of the dead from the aircraft "can disrupt the evidence and so it has to be done methodically, step by step ... possibly until tomorrow," Scully said.
Specialists from the Royal Air Force, the U.S. Air Force and investigators from the Norfolk Constabulary were working together to find out what happened, he said.
Scully said he did not know whether families of the dead had been notified.
Though ammunition scattered across the site during the crash, "the community do not need to be concerned" as long as they respect the cordon erected around the site, he said.
Roads near the site have been closed and will probably remain that way until Monday, he said.
According to the Air Force website, a Pave Hawk is a "highly modified" version of a Black Hawk helicopter that often carries a crew of two pilots, one flight engineer and one gunner.
Story, video and comments/reaction: http://www.cnn.com
Salthouse helicopter scene first light Wednesday.
Picture: SARAH WHITTLEY
First light has provided an early glimpse of the helicopter crash scene at Cley.
This shot by Cley villager Sarah Whittley shows the second Pave Hawk aircraft involved in the training exercise, landed close to the crash area - which police says sees debris, including bullets, covering the size of a football pitch.
Ms Whittley from the Pinkfoot art gallery said the area was busy with incoming US military traffic, including a low loader with a digger on the back which was struggling to get through the village’s winding streets.
Police this morning said the bodies of the four crew from RAF Lakenheath have not yet been recovered.
The coast road remains closed and a 400m cordon in place around the crash site.
In pictures: Norfolk fatal US helicopter crash at Cley