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Marines Continue Investigating Helicopter Crash That Killed 14

May 11, 1996 GMT

HAVELOCK, N.C. (AP) _ Marines flying two helicopters that collided in the dark during a war exercise had were wearing night vision goggles and made no apparent mistakes during a dress rehearsal the night before, the deputy Secretary of Defense said Saturday.

``Everything was done the way it ought to be done,″ John White told reporters from the Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station, about an hour’s drive from the site of the crash that killed 14 servicemen and seriously injured two others.

Marine investigators waded chest-deep through a dank swamp Saturday in search of clues to the cause of the collision between a CH-46E Sea Knight troop carrier and an AH-1W Super Cobra assault ship.

The Camp LeJeune collision left one helicopter so torn up that investigators said it was hard to identify. It happened at 2 a.m. Friday as the aircraft were participating in Operation Purple Star, war games involving thousands of British and American troops massed off the North Carolina coast.

No British troops were involved in the accident.

``I have no indications of a possible cause at this time,″ public affairs officer Maj. Steve Little said Saturday.

White, who attended a memorial service earlier aboard the USS Saipan, said the aircraft were at an altitude of about 300 feet at the time of the collision. He said troops had conducted a full dress rehearsal of the exercise the night before the crash.

The investigation at the crash site was suspended by darkness Friday night, but resumed at daybreak Saturday, Little said. All of the bodies were recovered by Friday afternoon.

The pilot and co-pilot of the CH-46E, the only survivors of the crash, remained hospitalized Saturday.

Maj. Charles A. Johnson of Fairfax, Va., the pilot, was listed in critical condition at Pitt County Memorial Hospital. 1st Lt. Walter W. Kulakowski of Alachua, Fla., was in stable condition at Camp Lejeune Naval Hospital.

All except Carroll were assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at Camp Lejeune. Carroll was a member of the 4th Psychological Operations Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg.

Lt. Gen. Charles Wilhelm, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Atlantic, said Saturday that troops were carrying on with the exercise while remembering those who died.

``They’re honoring their fallen comrades and getting on with the mission,″ Wilhelm said. ``That’s the way we raised them.″

Before Friday’s collision, nine Marine Corps aircraft had crashed this year, killing five people.

In March, the Marine Corps called a two-day halt to all nonessential flight operations to review safety rules after a rash of unexplained crashes.