HONOLULU — Military members and families gathered at Marine Corp Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Friday to pay tribute to the 12 U.S. Marines aboard two helicopters that crashed off the coast of Hawaii.
The status of the missing Marines changed to deceased on Wednesday, after five days of searching for them. The Marine Corps says casualty assistance calls officers personally notified each family of the change.
The search began Jan. 14 when a civilian on a beach reported seeing the helicopters flying and then a fireball.
The Marines were alerted when the CH-53E helicopters carrying six crew members each failed to return to their base at Kaneohe Bay following a nighttime training mission. Hours later, a Coast Guard helicopter and C-130 airplane spotted debris 2 1/2 miles off of Oahu.
The search ended Tuesday after the around-the-clock multi-agency effort failed to locate any sign of the service members.
The crew had all earned various decorations and were members of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463,Marine Aircraft Group 24, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.
The Marines were:
— Maj. Shawn M. Campbell, 41, College Station, Texas.
— Capt. Brian T. Kennedy, 31, Philadelphia.
— Capt. Kevin T. Roche, 30, St. Louis.
— Capt. Steven R. Torbert, 29, Florence, Alabama.
— Sgt. Dillon J. Semolina, 24, Chaska, Minnesota.
— Sgt. Adam C. Schoeller, 25, Gardners, Pennsylvania.
— Sgt. Jeffrey A. Sempler, 22, Woodruff, South Carolina.
— Sgt. William J. Turner, 25, Florala, Alabama.
— Cpl. Matthew R. Drown, 23, Spring, Texas.
— Cpl. Thomas J. Jardas, 22, Fort Myers, Florida.
— Cpl. Christopher J. Orlando, 23, Hingham, Massachusetts.
— Lance Cpl. Ty L. Hart, 21, Aumsville, Oregon.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller issued a statement on Friday saying that the service’s priority is to help the members of Helicopter Squadron 463 and the rest of Marine Aircraft Group 24.
“The loss of any Marine is a tragedy,” Neller said. “As the squadron and families deal with this loss, I want you to know that help is available as we transition through our sadness and grief. We all know that what we do as Marines is dangerous.”
Neller thanked the Coast Guard, Navy and other military and civilian agencies involved in the efforts to find the Marines after their two helicopters crashed off Oahu.
“The men and women in our ranks today, much like the generations of Marines before, are absolutely committed to each other, to our Corps, our country, and our mission. They are courageous, determined, and focused on success. These 12 Marines embodied those same qualities and traits. We will miss them, but we will never forget them.”
Marine Corps Times reporter Jeff Schogol contributed to this story.