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Rescuers find debris but no survivors in area of midair military collision [Updated]

October 31, 2009 |  7:40 am

Coast Guard divers board a MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter in San Diego to join the search for survivors of a midair collision between a Coast Guard C-130 Hercules transport plane and a Marine Corps AH-1 Super Cobra helicopter about 20 miles east of San Clemente Island.

Rescuers searching the coast off San Clemente Island where a midair collision occurred have found debris but no survivors, officials said today.

The collision between a Coast Guard C-130 Hercules transport plane and a Marine Corps AH-1 Super Cobra helicopter occurred about 7:10 p.m. Thursday, 20 miles east of San Clemente Island. A nearby pilot reported a fireball in the sky.

[Updated at 3:50 p.m.: The search for nine military crewmembers off San Clemente Island will continue throughout Saturday night and into Sunday morning, Coast Guard officials told reporters at a 3 p.m. news conference in San Diego.]

The Coast Guard plane from Sacramento, with seven crew members, was searching for a 12-foot skiff reported adrift near the island, which is owned by the Navy and used for training.

The Super Cobra, with two pilots, was among four Marine helicopters from the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station-based 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing on a night training mission.

The Coast Guard plane, designed for search-and-rescue missions, departed Sacramento about 3:30 p.m. and arrived at the search site about 75 minutes later. With darkness, the four Marine helicopters headed for their mission off San Clemente Island.

Six Coast Guard cutters, three Navy ships and various aircraft were continuing to search for survivors. But a Pentagon spokesman said it's unlikely anyone survived.

Coast Guard San Diego sector commander Capt. Tom Farris said officials are still in "search-and-rescue phase."

From the Coast Guard C-130 are:

Aircraft Commander Lt. Cmdr. Che J. Barnes, age 35, Capay, Calif.,

Co-pilot Lt. Adam W. Bryant, age 28, Crewe, Va.

Flight Engineer Chief Petty Officer John F. Seidman, age 43, Stockton, Calif.

Navigator Petty Officer 2nd Class Carl P. Grigonis, age 35, Mayfield Heights, Ohio,

Radio Operator Petty Officer 2nd Class Monica L. Beacham, age 29, Decaturville, Tenn.,

Air Crewman Petty Officer 2nd Class Jason S. Moletzsky, age 26, Norristown, Pa.,

Drop Master Petty Officer 3rd Class Danny R. Kreder II, age 22, Elm Mott, Texas,

All are stationed at Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento, Calif., where their aircraft was based.

The missing pilots from the Marine Corps helicopter are:

Maj. Samuel Leigh, age 35, Kennebec, Maine, an Iraq veteran.

1st Lt. Thomas Claiborne, age 26, Douglas, Colo.

-- Tony Perry and Shelby Grad

Photo: Searchers look for survivors. Credit: Associated Press