Navy identifies sailors who died in helicopter crash


by 13News Now

Posted on January 8, 2014 at 12:47 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 10 at 6:08 PM

UPDATE 1/10 5 p.m.:  The Navy temporarily suspended dive operations late Friday on the wreckage of the Navy MH-53E as a safety precaution due to deteriorating weather conditions.

USS Jason Dunham and USNS Medgar Evers returned to Naval Station Norfolk Friday. USS Mesa Verde  departed the crash site late Friday. USNS Grasp, with embarked divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2, will return to Naval Station Norfolk once it is determined conditions are unsafe to continue dive operations.

Recovery operations at the crash site will resume as soon as weather permits, Navy officials said.  

USS Ross and USS Oak Hill will continue to provide security patrols in the vicinity of the crash site until operations are resumed.

"Our priority right now is to bring our missing sailor back to his family.  We have a lot of dedicated, highly skilled men and women working to accomplish just that. However, as weather conditions are expected to worsen in the coming hours, safety is absolutely paramount," said Rear Adm. Kevin Scott, the director of Joint and Fleet Operations.

UPDATE 1/9 3:45 p.m.:  The sailors killed in yesterday's crash have been identified as Lt. J. Wesley Van Dorn, 29, of Greensboro, North Carolina and PO 3rd Class Brian Andrew Collins, 25, of Truckee, California.

Van Dorn, a Navy pilot, has been in the Navy for 6 years, 7 months and Collins has served for 2 years, 2 months.

One of the two surviving sailors has been released from the hospital.  The other could be released Friday.

The Coast Guard says it's suspended their search for the missing sailor; the Navy search continues. Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2, USS Mesa Verde, USS Jason Dunham, USNS Medgar Evers, USNS Grasp, and Navy H-60 helicopters continue search operations.  U.S. Coast Guard cutter Shearwater also continues to provide support. 

Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 divers entered the water at approximately 5 p.m. Thursday and located the wreckage about 15nautical miles east of Cape Henry utilizing side-scanning sonar. The Grasp anchored over the wreckage to aid in inspecting the site with a Seabotix Remotely Operated Vehicle prior to divers entering the water.

The Navy says they have no plans to ground the MH-35 E fleet. 

Gov. Bob McDonnell released the following statement: "Tragically, Lt. Wesley Vandorn and Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian Collins have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country. We will forever remember their character and their courage. On behalf of the people of Virginia, I extend the condolences of a grateful Commonwealth to their family and friends in this sad and difficult time."

Watch press briefing here


UPDATE 1/9: New assets responding to the search Thursday morning, according to Va. Beach Fire and Rescue.

A regional maritime response vehicle that’s housed/maintained in Va. Beach to serve as a mobile command boat; Fireboat 1 out of Lynnhaven Marina; Va. Beach police boat with side-scan sonar. The 40-foot Metal Shark is a full climate control year-around vessel. Police tell it carries a crew of 4 with additional personnel capabilities.

"They will be utilizing our High-Definition Towed Side-Scan SONAR. This SONAR has the capabilities of providing High-Definition real time video of the ocean floor," explained MPO Tonya Borman.

Coast Guard Cutter Shearwater and Navy helicopters searched through the night for the missing crewman.


UPDATE 1/8 9:15 p.m:  Coast Guard assisting in search; releases pictures of crash site and search off the coast of Va. Beach.

An accident investigation board has been convened to determine why the Norfolk-based MH-53E Sea Dragon went down Wednesday.


UPDATE 1/8 7:15 p.m.:  A second crewman has died following the crash. 
Two crew members remain hospitalized at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. One is listed in serious condition and the other has been upgraded to fair condition.

The search for the fifth crew member is continuing throughout the night.

Officials say Virginia Beach Fire Department boats have located the aircraft fuselage and tail section using their side-scan radar.

Other units assisting the U.S. Coast Guard 87-foot patrol boat Shearwater in the search and rescue operations include the Guided Missile Destroyer USS Jason Dunham, the salvage vessel USNS Grasp, the Amphibious Transport Dock ship USS Mesa Verde, and the dry cargo ship USNS Medgar Evans.

Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit Two from Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek Fort Story dive boats, manned with Navy divers, are also on scene.

MH-60s helicopters from Helicopter Sea Combat Support Squadrons two and 28 also assisted in the search effort.


VIRGINIA BEACH -- The Navy says one of four crewmembers rescued when a military helicopter went down in the Atlantic off Virginia Beach has died.

Four people were rescued and one person remains missing following an emergency water landing of an MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter off Cape Henry Wednesday.

More information here

The helicopter, assigned to Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron Fourteen (HM-14) based at Naval Station Norfolk Chambers Field, went down around 11 a.m.

Four of the crewmembers were found close to the floating wreckage, officials said. 

A Navy helicopter hoisted them from the water within an hour of the crash and transported them to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.  Two are in stable condition and one is in surgery, Captain Todd Flannery, Commander of Helicopter Sea Combat Wing Atlantic, said.  The identity of the dead crewman has not been released. 

Capt. Flannery said family and support personnel are at the hospital. 

The Coast Guard explained how the four were rescued.

“Two Navy helos on scene dropped a raft, recovered the four and took them to the hospital,” said  PO1 John Miller.

Read more from the Coast Guard here

Chris Kishbaugh saw the four crewmembers getting taken off the military helicopter at Sentara Norfolk General.

"As soon as the helicopter touched ground, crews immediately hopped out of the helicopter, requesting for people to give them a hand- stretchers and things like that," he said.  "A lot of the military gentlemen were hopping out of the helicopter, running towards the hospital and requesting things. Others were staying with the helicopter, opening up doors and getting them prepped out," Kishbaugh said. 

Kishbaugh said one of the crewmembers didn't appear to be moving. 

"The first gentleman that came out, he really didn't look all that in great of shape, they had him all bundled up.  I imagine they were wet at some point. He wasn't moving very much. There wasn't much movement out of him at all," Kishbaugh said. 

Navy officials said the MH-53E Sea Dragon was conducting routine training operations when it went down. 

The crew consisted of two pilots and three air crewman.

The search continues for the fifth crewmember. Officials said currents and winds are affecting the wreckage. 

Officials said the 87-foot patrol boat Shearwater out of Portsmouth and two boats from Station Little Creek,  a 25-foot response boat small and a 45-foot response boat medium, responded.

Dave Wydert with the USCG says Shearwater was about 2 nautical miles away from the helicopter when it went down.  The crew didn't see the crash but heard it and began an immediate search of the area. 

The Shearwater is equipped with smaller rigid-hull inflatable boats that have “inline” motors and those RHIBs slide out of the back of the Cutter into the water.  The RHIBs would be used as additional search assets.

Virginia Beach fireboats 1 and 12 are also assisting the military, officials said.

13News Now Meteorologist Evan Stewart says the water temperature is about 40 degrees and the air temperature 30 degrees.

Capt. Flannery said he had no comment about the safety of the helicopter.  The cause of the crash remains under investigation. 

News of the crash has 13News Now viewers going to our Facebook page to voice concerns about the situation.

Bev Caruso wrote, “Prayers go to the families and the crew members, hope the person missing is found shortly “

“My heart aches for them all,” wrote Cheryl Lewis.

Judy Peterson said, “My thoughts and prayers go out to all involved. Praying the 5th member is rescued quickly and that the 4 already pulled out of the water make a full recovery. Prayers also to those that are involved in the rescue itself. I have the utmost respect for the Coastguard and and all our military! They do an excellent job and sometimes a very dangerous one!!!!”