U.S. Coast Guard to suspend search for missing pilot; releases identity

HONOLULU — U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue crews plan to suspend the search for a Coast Guard pilot missing after an HH-65 Dolphin helicopter crashed Thursday evening approximately five miles south of Honolulu International Airport.

The pilot, Cmdr. Thomas Nelson, 42, of Staten Island, N.Y., went missing after the HH-65 crashed with three other crewmembers aboard during a training flight off the south shore of Oahu. The three crewmembers were recovered Thursday evening and pronounced dead at The Queen’s Medical Center.

“Coast Guard crews, with the generous assistance of our local, state and federal agency partners, have diligently searched around the clock since Thursday for our missing aviator, but I have decided to end our active search for Cmdr. Nelson,” said Rear Adm. Manson K. Brown, the Fourteenth Coast Guard District Commander.

Nelson, who reported to Air Station Barbers Point in July 2007 to serve as the executive officer, joined the Coast Guard in 1988. The executive officer is the second in charge of a Coast Guard air station.

Nelson most recently served as the Deputy Chief, Office of Security and Defense Operations, at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C., from July 2004 to June 2007. Prior assignments included: Air Station Brooklyn, N.Y.; Air Station Port Angeles, Wash.; and Air Station New Orleans. Nelson also served as a deck watch officer aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Basswood.

“Cmdr. Nelson’s Coast Guard service of two decades demonstrates his unwavering commitment to the Coast Guard and to the protection of mariners across the country,” said Brown.

The Coast Guard and HFD crews searched an area of more than 3,000 square miles — roughly five times the size of Oahu. Search crews on 91 different sorties (or patrols) scoured an area from shore to 40 miles out and from Barbers Point to Diamond Head.

On scene Saturday night and Sunday were crews aboard 41-foot and 47-foot motor lifeboats from Coast Guard Station Honolulu, aboard the Coast Guard patrol boats Kiska and Kittiwake, Cutter Rush, an HH-65 and C-130 from Air Station Barbers Point and HFD crews aboard the Fire 1 helicopter, two small boats and two jet skis.

Brown thanked HFD rescue crews as well as crews from the U.S. Navy, Air Force, Hawaii Air National Guard, Coast Guard Auxiliary, the state fire department at Honolulu International Airport and with the state Department of Land and Natural Resources for assisting in the search.

Over the weekend, the Coast Guard brought in air crews from Air Stations San Francisco, Humboldt Bay, Calif., and Kodiak, Alaska. The air crews are augmenting the staff at the 300-member Air Station Barbers Point to ensure the Coast Guard can answer distress calls and allow local Coast Guard members time to rest.

Coast Guard crews continue to recover debris from the downed helicopter and are transporting the debris to the Coast Guard’s Sand Island base. Investigative teams are in place to determine the cause of the accident.

The cause of the accident is under investigation. The debris recovered from the search area will be gathered in a secure hangar at Hickam Air Force Base, where a Coast Guard investigative team from Washington, D.C., will try to determine the cause of the crash.

The investigative team will begin examining the recovered debris Sunday evening.

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