Frogmen Search For Sunken Wreckage Of C-130
TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) _ Searchers made sonar contact with what may be the sunken wreckage of a U.S. Air Force plane with 21 Americans aboard that splashed into the Caribbean off Honduras’ north coast and divers were sent to investigate, officials said.
On a beach north of Puerto Castillo, searchers Wednesday found a sleeping bag, aircrew helmet bags, helmets and an unused life raft with the serial number of the missing C-130A aircraft, the U.S. Defense Department said in Washington.
The plane, en route to Honduras from Howard Air Force Base in Panama on what U.S. officials said was a routine mission, went down in stormy weather Tuesday morning. Fishermen said they saw the plane sinking about 500 yards offshore.
A Pentagon statement said the frigate USS McCloy ″made a sonar contact which will be investigated to determine if it is the missing aircraft. Weather is clearing in the search area; visibility and sea conditions are favorable for continued search activities.″
A U.S. Embassy spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday evening that a diving team had been sent to search the area where the sonar contact was made but, ″We have not received any word here on the wreckage being found.″
U.S. Embassy press attache Robert Callahan said there were five crew members and 16 passengers on the aircraft. The Pentagon said the passengers were eight Army personnel and eight from the Air Force.The Pentagon released their names and said they had been declared missing.
″No hostile action was indicated in the mishap,″ according to a statement issued by U.S. military officials at Palmerola Air Base, 90 miles northwest of Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital.
The McCloy was diverted to the area after leaving the port of Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala, the Defense Department said. The Pentagon also said another C-130 from the U.S. Southern Command headquarters in Panama had flown to Trujillo, Honduras, where the missing plane was bound, to join in the search.
Trujillo is about 150 miles north of Tegucigalpa and is near a regional military training center for Honduran troops.
The Honduran navy sent patrol boats to assist in the search, the Pentagon added.
Callahan said the plane was assigned to the 440th Tactical Airlift Wing, an Air Force reserve unit based at Billy Mitchell Field in Milwaukee.
He said bad weather late Tuesday forced officials to suspend the search, but it resumed Wednesday morning.
The United States has been holding joint military exercises with the Honduran army. The next major joint maneuver, Big Pine III, is scheduled to begin this spring. The starting date has not been announced.
The United States has maintained a troop strength ranging from 1,000 to more than 5,000 in Honduras since the takeover of the government in neighboring Nicaragua by the leftist Sandinistas in 1979.The United States also is involved in a military roadbuilding project in northern Honduras.