Salvage operations concluded for recovery of downed Coast Guard helicopter

HONOLULU — The U.S. Coast Guard has completed the salvage recovery phase of the investigation of a fatal HH-65 Dolphin helicopter crash off Oahu Sept. 4, 2008.

Rear Adm. Manson K. Brown, the Fourteenth Coast Guard District Commander, said U.S. Navy assistance was paramount in the successful recovery of the downed aircraft’s rotor head, gearbox, main drive shaft and other key components.

These items will be crucial to assist two separate Coast Guard investigation teams in determining the cause of the accident. The recovered HH-65 parts will be transferred to the Coast Guard’s Aircraft Repair & Supply Center in Elizabeth City, N.C.

Also recovered were the flight suit and some personal effects of pilot Cmdr. Thomas Nelson, who had been missing. Coast Guard and Honolulu Fire Department rescue personnel recovered three of the four crew members aboard the helicopter on the evening of the accident, but not Nelson.

A multi-agency search for four days for Nelson was unsuccessful.

“We are extremely grateful to have this closure,” said Brown. “It was very important for Cmdr. Nelson’s family, for his fellow airmen at Air Station Barbers Point and for the rest of us in the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard is working with the Nelson family to arrange services to honor Cmdr. Nelson as the other three crew members of ‘Coast Guard 6505’ have been.”

A funeral service was held last weekend for pilot Lt. Cmdr. Andrew Wischmeier in his hometown of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Rescue swimmer Petty Officer 1st Class David Skimin and flight mechanic Petty Officer 2nd Class Joshua Nichols were honored in funeral services last month.

Friends and family of Skimin gathered at Sunset Beach on Oahu’s North Shore, and friends of family of Nichols gathered in Buffalo, N.Y.

Salvage experts aboard the USNS Salvor spent the past week recovering debris from the HH-65’s crash site — in water approximately 1,600 feet deep and fives miles off shore of Oahu’s Honolulu International Airport.

“Our thanks go to the Navy for their assistance in the recovery of 6505 and to the community here in Hawaii for the support shown the Coast Guard during this tragic period,” Brown said.

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