CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- "We are deeply saddened by the loss of our brother Marines in this unfortunate event," said Col. Mark T. Goodman, assistant chief of staff, Installation Security and Safety, referring to the fatal MV-22 Osprey crash which killed four Marines Monday at approximately 7:30 p.m. The downed craft, located 10 miles north of Jacksonville in a remote wooded area, was reached by witnesses and emergency personnel.
The four Marines killed were Lt. Col. Keith M. Sweaney, 42, officer-in-charge of the MV-22 Multi-Service Operational Test Team and the pilot of the Osprey Monday, survived by his wife Carol, son Michael, and daughter Katrina; Maj. Michael L. Murphy, 38, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Training Squadron-204, survived by his wife Patricia, son, Michael, daughter, Grace, and parents, John and Anne Murphy; Staff Sgt. Avely W. Runnels, 25, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Training Squadron-204, survived by wife Karen, daughter, Dakota, and mother Hester Runnels; and Sgt. Jason A. Buyck, 24, MV-22 Multiservice operational Test and Evaluation Team, survived by wife, Patricia, and parents James and Karen Buyck.
"Everyone involved, both Marines and civilians, gave and are giving their very best efforts," said Goodman about the recovery efforts. "It was also suggested by the director of Emergency Services for Onslow County, Doug Bass, that we activate our previously established Joint Military- Civilian Task Force for Emergency Response (MCTFER) due to the unknown magnitude of this event and potential for civilian/military casualties. We did so as expeditiously as possible."
As of now, no one is quite certain what caused the crash, but everything is being done to help the situation.
"We executed a previously exercised standard response and established a MCTFER incident command post along Ramsey Road at about 2000 (8 p.m.) and began to organize (recovery) efforts," said Goodman. "The Onslow County Fire Marshall, Don Decker, came up on our joint emergency communications channels and reported he and North Carolina Forestry were closing on the crash site but were severely hindered by very thick vegetation. North Carolina Forestry's Don Edwards, requested his fire plow be used to cut a makeshift road to the site."
While the work was being done to cut a road to the crash site, an intense ground fire was soon reported in the area. MCB firefighters addressed the fire to their best ability with foam spray, while wearing protective gear and air packs, Goodman stated.
"Chief Warrant Officer Rodger Bond, Marine Corps Air Station New River Crash Fire Rescue, arrived and established an operational site closer to the actual crash site in the forest and initially assumed standard recovery operations at the site," said Goodman. "Marine Corps Base Military Police were sent to assist New River Military Police in the establishment of local site security."
According to Goodman, once New River FCR (Crash, Fire and Rescue) was in place, it became evident that there was no potential rescue of injured Marines and/or civilians. "MCTFER displaced the mobile command unit to a better support location at 0300 (3 a.m.) at the Half Moon Volunteer Fire Station nearby," said Goodman. "From that location, MCTFER and Marine Corps Base personnel continued to coordinate support as requested -- food, shelter, etc. -- with Lt. Col. Ronald W. Ochse, Operations officer, New River and then the Operational site commander."
According to Goodman, Marine Corps Base Fire, Rescue and Emergency Medical Service units remained on sight with light units throughout the night and into the morning.
The on-site crews with local law enforcement then shifted their efforts to keeping the actual crash site isolated to allow both investigation and recovery teams to conduct their jobs with minimal interference. Their job was complicated by fog, rain and water several feet deep in some places. Several tons of gravel were hauled in during the night to improve site access.
Both the Marine Air Group and Squadron commanding officers were on scene initially and then departed to prepare for the difficult task of family notification, said Goodman.
"As the sun rose Tuesday morning, the clouds parted and the pace of recovery operations quickened," said Goodman. "MCB Installation Security and Safety remained a supporting role, continuing to provide communications and logistical support to the operational site as requested and desired by Ochse, a truly professional officer whose performance throughout this event was superb."
"As could be expected, our Marines, Sailors and the residents and leadership of Onslow County and throughout North Carolina threw their backs and hearts to our combined efforts when we needed them most," said Goodman. "All hands appreciated the visit and encouraging words of Maj. Gen. Martin R. Berndt, commanding general, II MEF, throughout the night. Emergency support will continue as requested. Air station recovery teams are firmly established with security and communications in place."
A memorial service is scheduled at the Marine Corps New River Air Station chapel Dec. 15 at 10 a.m.