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5 Killed in Navy Helicopter Crash

March 8, 1998

CRESTLINE, Calif. (AP) _ A Navy crew on Saturday retrieved the bodies of five people aboard a helicopter that crashed in the snow-packed San Bernardino Mountains.

The SH-60B Seahawk was on a training mission from North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego to Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas when it vanished from radar screens Friday afternoon, said Navy Lt. j.g. Charlie Brown. All aboard were killed.

The Navy identified them as:

Lt. Kelly E. Mackey, 30, of San Jose, Calif.; Lt. John Lee, 28, of Oceanside, N.Y.; Lt. j.g. Kent E. Koontz, 29, of Nashville, Tenn.; Lt. Donald M. Hillegas, 25, of Raleigh, N.C., and Daniel R. Garber, a 24-year-old aviation anti-submarine warfare operator third class from Perry, Iowa.

The Navy ground team battled blustery wind, thick woods and steep, icy terrain Saturday to bring the bodies down to the nearest road.

Civilian authorities said the pilot had reported icy rotor blades shortly before he went down in fog.

``We talked to him at 1,500 feet above ground and the aircraft was in control and not disabled,″ controller Michael Harne told The Press-Enterprise in Riverside. ``He said, `We are taking on ice’ and he was going to descend. There was no panic.″

Searchers combed canyons and mountaintops for five hours before finding the wreck on 5,000-foot Monument Peak southwest of Lake Silverwood, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

A U.S. Customs helicopter using night vision gear spotted the helicopter, said Cindy Beavers, spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County sheriff.

The chopper was assigned to Helicopter Anti-submarine Squadron Light-47. Besides submarine hunting, the Seahawks are used for reconnaissance and search duties.

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