The U.S. Navy has set a new record for aircraft recovery by retrieving an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter from the bottom of the sea off the coast of Okinawa, Japan, from a depth of 19,075 feet.
The details of the impressive feat were revealed last night by Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), whose Supervisor of Salvage and Diving (SUPSALV) was responsible for bringing up the helicopter, which emerged looking to be in surprisingly good condition.
The Seahawk, operated by Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 12 (HSC-12), the “Golden Falcons,” had crashed into the Philippine Sea 92 nautical miles east of Okinawa on January 25 last year. At the time, the helicopter was conducting operations from the amphibious command ship USS Blue Ridge (LCC-19).
No lives were lost in the accident, the five crew members managing to escape the MH-60S before it sank. The crew members were rescued by U.S. and Japanese forces. Two were taken back to the Blue Ridge by another Navy MH-60S from the ship and the other three flown by a Japan Air Self-Defense Force UH-60J helicopter to Naval Hospital Okinawa for evaluation.
Responding to a U.S. Pacific Command Fleet request, SUPSALV located and documented the wreckage using side-scan sonar and photographs of the helicopter as it lay on the ocean floor during North Pacific operations last spring.
SUPSALV returned to the site this month at the request of the Navy Safety Center with CURV 21, a deep-water, remotely operated vehicle with the ability to meet deep ocean salvage requirements to a maximum depth of 20,000 feet.
The SUPSALV team met the contracted salvage vessel in Guam, completed mobilization of CURV and its deep-lift take-up reel, and departed for the five-day transit. Arriving on the crash site March17, the team began recovery operations. Pulled from its depth of 19,075 FSW, the MH-60S’s recovery broke SUPSALV’s own world depth record for an aircraft recovery.
The salvage vessel will proceed to Fleet Activities Yokosuka where the MH-60S will be offloaded for transport back to the United States.
“As a whole, this operation was fast-paced and entirely successful,” said Bryan Blake, SUPSALV’s Deep Ocean Program Manager. “Our efforts validated the Navy’s deep ocean search and recovery requirements. The capability to recover the airframe and make it available to determine the cause of the accident is a huge plus helping to ensure Naval Aviation safety.
The Navy’s Supervisor of Salvage and Diving provides technical, operational, and emergency support to the Navy, Department of Defense, and other federal agencies in the ocean engineering disciplines of marine salvage, towing, pollution control and abatement, diving and diving system safety, and certification, diving, and salvage equipment procurement, and underwater ship husbandry.