Two Naval Air crewmen were killed and two others hospitalized when the MH-53E "Sea Dragon" helicopter fell into the Gulf about 11 a.m. Shortly before the crash, the pilot reported mechanical difficulties during the routine training mission, Navy officials said.
"Navy search and rescue teams, in conjunction with the U.S. Coast Guard, will continue the search into the night if necessary until we can locate the missing crew members," said Lt. j.g. Chuck Bell, a Navy spokesman. "That's our top priority."
Jeremy J. Yaklin, 19, of Lapeer, Mich., and Adan Shawn R. Palyo, 20, of Stratford, Conn., were listed in stable condition at Christus Spohn Memorial Hospital in Corpus Christi, Lt. Bell said.
The survivors, floating with inflatable life vests, were rescued from the water more than 30 minutes after the helicopter went down.
Commander Bob Riehl, commanding officer of the HM-15 mine countermeasures squadron based at Naval Air Station-Corpus Christi, identified one of those killed as Jeffrey S. Paschal, 40, from Phoenix. The identity of the second victim was being withheld until family members could be notified.
During the day, several Coast Guard and Navy craft, including three helicopters, an F-16 Falcon, a patrol boat and the USS Gladiator, a Navy minesweeper, could be seen patroling the green waters of the Gulf about three miles off Malachite Beach, southeast of Corpus Christi.
The MH-53E and its six-member crew, assigned to the HM-15 mine warfare squadron at NAS-Corpus Christi, had just taken off Thursday morning on a routine minesweeping training mission when the pilot radioed that he was experiencing mechanical difficulties, according to Cmdr. Riehl.
The pilot attempted to return to the nearest land for an emergency landing, Cmdr. Riehl said. The helicopter crashed into about 30 feet of water nearly four miles off Malachite Beach.
"This is a fine aircraft, one of the safest in the air, with lots of system redundancies built in," Cmdr. Riehl said. "We don't know what went wrong."
Two crew members were plucked from the water almost immediately by Navy rescue teams, according to Coast Guard Cmdr. Jan Johnson. Two crewmembers were located by search teams about 2 p.m. and airlifted to the hospital, where they were reported dead on arrival.
All crew members were wearing emergency equipment with attached strobes and flares, as well as tracking signals, Navy authorities said. None, however, have been triggered by the missing crew members.