Efforts to locate the 12 Marine crewmembers of two CH-53E Super Stallions believed to have collided during routine night training have been continuing for more than 12 hours in the area, where it’s nearly 1p.m. local time.

Capt. Timothy Irish, a spokesman for III Marine Expeditionary Force said the Marines were alerted to a possible incident at 11:38p.m. last night, when the two aircraft from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463, out of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, failed to check in on time.

Carr said the Coast Guard was first alerted to a problem when two civilians on the beach separately reported seeing a fireball and a flare.

Coast guard assets including an MH-65 Dolphin rescue chopper, a C-130 and two cutters continue to patrol a seven-mile debris field. Two Navy guided missile destroyers, the Gridley and the John Paul Jones, are assisting in the effort, as are Honolulu rescue teams and Marines from the nearby base.

Nothing has been recovered from the debris field yet, Carr said, but the wreckage is consistent with a military aircraft.

Breaking surf up to 40 feet high is adding to the challenge of searching for survivors.

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“It’s very difficult to find things right now,” he said.

The Marines aboard the two helicopters included several instructor-trainers in addition to the standard four-man crews, Irish said. They were conducting routine night training that was to start and end at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

Marine investigators are still investigating the cause of the crash, Irish said. He noted that there were no early indications that anything was amiss with the aircraft or the planned flight.

“This was preplanned and routine nighttime flying,” he said. “The squadrons were based here; they know the course … Nothing that I’ve seen personally that was out of the ordinary.”

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(featured photo by Jonathan Derden)