Troops aboard HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters (Photo credit: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)
Michael Winter, USA TODAY
British police said four people are believed dead after a U.S. Air Force helicopter crashed Tuesday night along the eastern coast of England.
The HH-60G Pave Hawk, an updated version of the U.S. Army Black Hawk, crashed during a training mission in Cley-Next-The-Sea., in Norfolk, the U.S. Air Force reported. The helicopter was attached to 48th Fighter Wing at the Royal Air Force base at Lakenheath, in Suffolk, which is also home to the 56th Rescue Squadron.
The USAF said in a statement the the crash occurred about 6 p.m. (1 p.m. ET), though Norfolk police reported it happened about 7 p.m. The local fire department said the first rescue unit arrived at 7:53 p.m.
Police said they believe that all four crewmembers died, the Norfolk Eastern Daily Press reported, but the USAF statement said the fate of crew remained unknown late Tuesday
Initial reports indicated theaircraft had crashed into the North Sea, but it later confirmed it came down over land, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution said.
A local official told the BBC he believed the helicopter had crashed in a bird sanctuary popular with waterfowl. Residents speculated the aircraft might have hit a bird or birds over the 400 acres of the protected Cley Marshes, which are owned and managed by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust.
The preserve has been closed because of recent coastal flooding.
One resident told the BBC he took video of two military aircraft flying "extremely low" about two hours before the crash. Another said he heard the impact and thought the aircraft had hit the beach.
The HH-60G Pave Hawk is primarily used for search and rescue and to remove combat forces from hostile area. It's also used for medical evacuation, disaster response and humanitarian assistance. Pave refers to the aircraft's electronics systems.
RAF Lakenheath is the largest U.S. Air Force-operated base in England and the only F-15 fighter wing of U.S. Air Forces in Europe.