MOBILE, Ala. – The body of a Portland man among four U.S. Coast Guard crewmembers who went down in a helicopter crash into Mobile Bay in Alabama was recovered Thursday night, according the Coast Guard.
Searchers found the body of Lt. j.g. Thomas Cameron along with the body of Lt. Cmdr. Dale Taylor in the bay between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. The Coast Guard is still looking for Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Knight. Searchers are not giving up hope that he will be found alive.
Cameron, 24, graduated from Cleveland High School in 2005, according to a Portland Public Schools spokesman.
On Thursday, authorities hauled the wreckage of the Coast Guard helicopter out of the bay but did not find the bodies of the missing crewmembers inside.
A fourth crewmember, Chief Petty Officer Fernando Jorge, was found unresponsive after the crash and later declared dead.
The MH-65C helicopter crashed on a training mission Tuesday evening near Point Clear in Mobile Bay.
Cameron was a loved student-athlete, according to friends. He was also the captain of the Coast Guard Academy soccer team where he graduated in 2009.
Friends said he will be remembered for his passion for life and his friendly demeanor.
The crewmembers were outfitted with survival gear called "dry suits" for the water which officials said was around 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Chief Petty Officer John Edwards said all the crew members received extensive training in emergency escape. He declined to say how long a person could typically survive in a dry suit in 60-degree water, but said, "They look at beyond the survivability charts."
Jorge was a rescue swimmer, said Capt. Don Rose, commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector Mobile. Rose said rescuers tried to revive the rescue swimmer when they found him, but were unable to. The other crewmembers were the pilot, the co-pilot and the flight mechanic.
The accident comes less than three years after an HH60 Jayhawk helicopter crashed off James Island in Washington state in July 2010, killing three Coast Guard crew members.
Tuesday's wreck also brought back memories in south Alabama of a 1981 crash of a Coast Guard helicopter near an airport in Mobile that killed all four people aboard.
The MH-65C, commonly referred to as the Dolphin, is a twin-engine, single-rotor helicopter often used in search and rescue operations. A Coast Guard website said the typical crew includes two pilots, a flight mechanic and a rescue swimmer.
The Coast Guard had major problems with engine failures in the French-designed aircraft and began replacing the helicopter's power plants in 2004, according to a report from the General Accounting Office. Pilots reported 67 cases of engine failures or other problems over a six-month period ending in February 2004, the report said.
The Coast Guard began an engine replacement program costing as much as $250 million to solve the problem, according to the report. Originally known as the HH-65, Dolphin helicopters with new engines, communication equipment and weapons were designated as the MH-65C, the type of helicopter that went down in Mobile Bay.
Edwards said the helicopter that crashed received the improved engine several years ago, but it wasn't immediately clear exactly when.
"They're new engines as far as engines go, but they're not brand-spanking new," he said. The improvements seem to have fixed the engine problems from years ago since no new rash of failures or crashes has occurred, he said.
The last deaths in an HH-65 were in September 2008, when four crew members died when a helicopter went down off the coast of Hawaii, according to a Coast Guard database. A rescue cable snapped during a training mission and metal flew into the rotor blades, an investigation found.
The aircraft that crashed Tuesday had departed the Aviation Training Center in Mobile on a training mission, Petty Officer 2nd Class Elizabeth Bordelon said.
Coast Guard officials say it went down about two to three miles southwest of Point Clear.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the crewmembers during this difficult time," Capt. Don Rose, commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector Mobile, said in a statement.
The Coast Guard said two helicopters, an airplane and several vessels were involved in the search.
National Weather Service officials said winds in the area Tuesday night were southeast at about 15 mph.
KATU News reporter Thom Jensen contributed to this report from Portland.