Updated: Friday, 19 Feb 2010, 5:19 PM EST
Published : Friday, 19 Feb 2010, 8:59 AM EST
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WAVY) - The Navy says everyone aboard a helicopter that was forced to land in a remote area of West Virginia has been successfully rescued from the aircraft.
Navy spokesman Mike Maus said Friday none of the 17 crew and passengers aboard the MH-60S helicopter suffered life-threatening injuries. The Navy is withholding the names of all aboard.
During a news conference at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., Friday morning, Steve Schreiber, Commander, Helicopter Sea Combat Air Wing Atlantic, said their injuries range from scrapes and bruises to some broken bones.
"Our primary focus has been the safe evacuation of all the aircrew and passengers," said Schriebier. "As of this morning all personnel have either been evacuated from the crash site or are being evacuated."
Of the 17 on the helicopter, 11 were Navy sailors, four were West Virginia National Guard personnel and two were Marines. Eight of the crew and passengers were pulled from the crash area Thursday night. Another seven were evacuated around 4 a.m. Friday, with the last two being removed around 9:30 a.m.
Officials say the helicopter crashed Thursday shortly after 1 p.m. on the side of a mountain in Pocahontas County, about 100 miles south of the helicopter's destination, Camp Dawson near Kingwood. The chopper landed in more than four feet of snow.
The wreckage of the Norfolk-based U.S. Navy "Knighthawk" helicopter was located at about 7:15 p.m. Thursday.
The helicopter is based in the Helicopter Sea Combat Support Squadron TWO SIX (HSC-26) at Naval Station Norfolk, Chambers Field. It crashed on its way to W. Va. to participate in training called "Operation Southbound Trooper X", which began at Fort Pickett, Va.
Operation Southbound Trooper X is an annual exercise focusing on the integration of joint U.S. and NATO tactics and procedures as well as inter-service coordination and capabilities.
The helicopter crashed about six miles from Snowshoe Ski Resort in West Virginia. The ski resort provided two snowcats and two snowmobiles, which were used to rescue the military members off the side of the mountain.
Schreiber lauded the heroic efforts of the crew and passengers, as well as the rescuers first on the scene.
"I'd like to thank the W. Va. National Guard and the local responders for their heroic work. Their efforts were extraordinary and took place under the most difficult of situations. The rescuers had to traverse more than three miles from the nearest road through heavily wooded and mountainous terrain to reach the crash site," Schreiber said. "A special thanks to the Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort for providing Snowcats that enabled first responders to reach the site."
Schreiber said weather conditions at the time of the crash were bad, but not bad enough to preclude the training. The side of the mountain was blanketed with four to five feet of snow. Temperatures were less than 20 degrees and there were low visibility ceilings at the time of the crash, according to Schreiber.
"The temperatures were less than 20 degrees, but the crew was able to start fires to keep themselves warm. They put their extensive survival training to use while they waited to be evacuated," he said. "The passengers were all involved in a joint training exercise and were equipped to operate in the cold."
The West Virginia Army National Guard HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter was able to locate the downed helicopter in a snow-covered area near Lewisburg, West Virginia.
C-130 Hercules aircraft from the 130th Airlift Wing in Charleston also orbited the site to maintain communications with the downed aircraft.
On-site rescue efforts were coordinated by the West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management and the West Virginia National Guard.
The cause of the crash is still under investigation.