A Minnesota native is among 12 people missing after two Marine Corps helicopters collided over Hawaii late Thursday, family members confirmed Friday.
Sgt. Dillon Semolina, 24, was born in the Wright County town of Buffalo, graduated from Delano High School and has been stationed in Hawaii. According to his Facebook page, he lives in Kaneohe, Hawaii, and is engaged to be married.
His uncle, Ryan Bachand, said Friday night that family members, some of whom live in Bloomington, are still absorbing the shock of the news that Semolina is missing.
“We don’t know exactly what happened yet,” he said. “Hopefully, we can bring him home.”
Scores of friends expressed sympathy and offered up their thoughts and prayers on social media Friday night.
Semolina’s brother, Greg Semolina, posted this on his Facebook page: “Please pray for my brother and all those involved. … His safety has not been confirmed. His helicopter was one of the ones in the collision. Please let them find him.”
The helicopters, CH-53Es carrying six crew members each, collided and went down off the island of Oahu while on a nighttime training mission just before midnight Thursday, according to an Associated Press report from Hawaii. As of late Friday, there was no immediate word on the fate of those aboard or what caused the accident.
Rescuers searched choppy waters where debris had been sighted, military officials said.
A Coast Guard helicopter and C-130 airplane spotted a debris field 2½ miles offshore early Friday. The debris covered an area of 2 miles, Marine Capt. Timothy Irish told the Associated Press.
The choppers are part of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. Known as Super Stallions, they are the U.S. military’s largest helicopter, capable of carrying a light armored vehicle, 16 tons of cargo or a team of combat-equipped Marines, according to a Marine Corps website.
Elaray Navarro, a retiree who lives across the street from the beach, said she heard two booms late Thursday that were loud enough to shake her house.
“I threw my blanket off, put my slippers on and ran outside, thinking it was a car accident,” she said.
She expressed concern for the crew as she watched the pounding surf from a beach park in Haleiwa on Oahu’s North Shore. “I pray to the man upstairs to help them. To bring them home safely,” she said.
In Missouri, family members of Capt. Kevin Roche said they believe he was one of the Marines aboard the helicopters. “We are grateful to everyone involved in the rescue,” said a family statement by brother-in-law Anthony Kuenzel in St. Louis. An aunt posted on a Marine Corps Facebook page that three Marines visited Roche’s parents and reported that he was missing.
The crash came less than a year after a Marine Corps tilt-rotor aircraft crashed during a training exercise in Hawaii, killing two Marines. The MV-22 Osprey went down last May with 21 Marines and a Navy corpsman on board. In 2011, one serviceman was killed and three others injured when a CH-53D Sea Stallion transport chopper crashed in Kaneohe Bay.
Semolina’s family has started a GoFundMe.com page to help fly his parents to Hawaii, Bachand said.
“It’s a really tough time,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.