The MH-65C helicopter crashed Tuesday evening near Point Clear, Ala. One crewmember was found unresponsive and later declared dead, the Coast Guard said.
The man who died was a rescue swimmer, said Capt. Don Rose, commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector Mobile. The three missing crew members were the pilot, the co-pilot and the flight mechanic.
Rose said rescuers tried to revive the rescue swimmer when they found him, but were unable to.
Names of the four crewmembers have not been released.
The crewmembers were outfitted with survival gear for the water, which was just over 60 degrees Fahrenheit overnight.
“These guys are wearing survival equipment, they’re wearing what we call dry suits to protect them from the cold water,” Rose said.
Chief Petty Officer John Edwards said divers overnight had gone to the site of the helicopter, in about 13 feet of water, but were unable to gain access to its fuselage. He said they had planned to try again Wednesday with hopes of confirming whether the crewmembers were inside.
“The sun is up, which improves things greatly,” Edwards said.
Timothy Shiver, a volunteer with North Baldwin County Search and Rescue, said he and about 15 members of his group were among those helping with the search overnight. He said the water was rough and that dozens of boats were involved in the search.
At midmorning, under overcast skies and sprinkles of rain, eight rescue workers from the North Baldwin group set out again in two boats equipped with sonar. Their spokesman, James Phillips, said they were working under directions from the Coast Guard, and were tasked with using the sonar to find debris. He said they also brought a diver, but the diver had not yet been instructed to enter the choppy water.
The accident comes less than three years after an HH60 Jayhawk helicopter crashed off James Island in Washington state in July 2010, killing three Coast Guard crew members.
Tuesday’s wreck also brought back memories in south Alabama of a 1981 crash of a Coast Guard helicopter near an airport in Mobile that killed all four people aboard.
The MH-65C, commonly referred to as the Dolphin, is a twin-engine, single-rotor helicopter often used in search and rescue operations. A Coast Guard website said the typical crew includes two pilots, a flight mechanic and a rescue swimmer.
The Coast Guard had major problems with engine failures in the French-designed aircraft and began replacing the helicopter’s power plants in 2004, according to a report from the General Accounting Office. Pilots reported 67 cases of engine failures or other problems over a six-month period ending in February 2004, the report said.