Wreckage of U.S. military helicopter found in Nepal; no sign of survivors

A U.S. military team in Nepal found no evidence of survivors Friday amid the wreckage of an American helicopter that apparently crashed during an aid mission in an earthquake-ravaged region earlier this week, a military commander said.

U.S. and Nepali military officials, however, had no immediate details on what caused the chopper to go down Tuesday with eight aboard: six U.S. Marines and two Nepali soldiers.

The five-member U.S. unit reached the Himalayan site hours after the debris was spotted by the crew of a Nepali army helicopter — part of an extensive search since the U.S. chopper went missing.

The U.S. team was joined by Nepali soldiers who arrived by helicopter and on foot, said the Nepali official who directed the search-and-rescue operation, Maj. Gen. Binoj Basnyat. Bad weather hampered further efforts to reach the wreckage — cast over a remote mountain area at an elevation of about 11,200 feet.

At a news conference in Nepal, U.S. Marine Lt. Gen. John Wissler said the cause of the accident was not immediately known, and there was no initial sign of survivors.

“We all mourn this tragic loss of life,” Wissler said.

Earlier, a spokesman for Nepal’s Ministry of Home Affairs, Laxmi Prasad Dhakal, said the possibility of survivors was “very low.”

The helicopter was reported missing after a 7.3-magnitude quake, a deadly aftershock, killed at least 100 people in Nepal, northern India and Tibet. The Marines were on an aid mission distributing relief supplies to villages devastated by Nepal’s April 25 earthquake, which killed more than 8,000 and left more than half a million people homeless.

The search leader Basnyat said the wreckage was spotted near the village of Nunthali in the hard-hit Dolakha district. They were led to the area by villagers who said they had seen parts of the aircraft.

The UH-1Y Venom “Huey” helicopter was declared missing after taking off from the town of Charikot in northeastern Nepal, U.S. military officials said earlier in the week. The Marines were with Joint Task Force 505, the American unit assisting in Nepal.

A massive search was launched that included U.S. crew aboard two Huey helicopters and two Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft to search across Nepal’s northeast region, where scores of villages were devastated in the twin quakes. They joined eight Nepali military helicopters and 200 soldiers who had been mobilized, as well as 40 boats to comb the Tamakoshi River, a popular waterway for rafters.

The U.S. military has not released the names of the troops on board the aircraft, but the father of one of the Marines told the Wichita Eagle this week that officials had visited him and his wife to inform them that their son, Capt. Chris Norgren, was missing.

Ron Norgren, of Wichita, said the family had last heard from their son on Mother’s Day, when Chris Norgren took time out from his relief duties in Nepal to send his mother flowers.

“I told him I was very proud of him, that he’s over in Nepal helping people out and that he still remembered Mother’s Day,” Norgren told the newspaper. “He said he was glad to hear I was doing so well. He texted me back and thanked me for the compliment, and that was about it.”

Chris Norgren, 31, a Wichita native, had a degree in aerospace engineering and mathematics from Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. He signed up for the Marines after being laid off from a job at Cessna Aircraft Co. and spent time in Afghanistan, his father said.

U.S. military officials said in a tweet Tuesday that the Pentagon had three UH-1Y helicopters in the country, four MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, two KC-130J cargo planes and at least four C-17 Globemaster planes flying missions as part of Operation Sahayogi Haat, the relief effort. The name means “helping hand” in Nepali, military officials said.

Pradeep Bashyal in Kathmandu and Missy Ryan and Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.

Annie Gowen is The Post’s India bureau chief and has reported for the Post throughout South Asia and the Middle East.

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