Five days after a pair of U.S. military aircraft crashed off the coast of Japan, the Marine Corps has called off its search-and-rescue efforts for five of the crew members involved. The III Marine Expeditionary Force declared the service members dead in an announcement released on Tuesday local time.
"Every possible effort was made to recover our crew, and I hope the families of these selfless Americans will find comfort in the incredible efforts made by US, Japanese, and Australian forces during the search," the commander of the expeditionary force, Lt. Gen. Eric M. Smith, said in a statement posted to Facebook.
"Every member of the III MEF family mourns this loss and stands alongside the families of the fallen in this terrible moment," he added.
The announcement marks a tragic conclusion to a search operation that began Thursday, after what the Marines have described as an "aviation mishap" during a routine overnight training exercise, between an F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet and a KC-130 Hercules refueling aircraft.
The Corps said it has opened an investigation into the cause of the accident.
A total of seven Marines were aboard the two aircraft at the time of the crash. The two F/A-18 Hornet crew members were found in the hours immediately afterward, during the joint search efforts of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, the Japan Coast Guard and the U.S. 7th Fleet. But only one ultimately survived.
The other, identified as Capt. Jahmar F. Resilard, a 28-year-old F/A-18 pilot with Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 242, was declared dead soon after he was recovered from the water.
"He was an effective and dedicated leader who cared for his Marines and fellow fighter pilots with passion," Resilard's commander, Lt. Col. James Compton, said in a statement Friday. "His warm and charismatic nature bound us together, and we will miss him terribly."
Since then, the Marines said the joint search operation had covered more than 35,000 square nautical miles in a span of some 900 hours — but to no avail.
The five crew members declared dead Tuesday have not yet been formally identified, although their family members have been notified.
"We know this difficult decision was made after all resources were exhausted in the vigorous search for our Marines," said Lt. Col. Mitchell T. Maury, commanding officer of the squadron to which the KC-130 Hercules was assigned. "Our thoughts are heavy and our prayers are with all family and friends of all five aircrew."