Body found in search for Marine who fell during Osprey training flight
Posted May 19
Updated May 21
Elizabethtown, N.C. — The body of a Marine who fell from an MV-22 Osprey aircraft Monday evening during a training flight near White Lake was recovered Tuesday evening after an exhaustive search by more than 1,000 military and law enforcement personnel.
Military officials have not released the name of the Marine, but according to an Illinois newspaper, it was Steven Hancock, of Coal City. Hancock was a crew chief in the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.
"I'd like to extend my sincerest condolences to the family and loved ones of our Marine," said Maj. Gen. Robert Hedelund, commanding general of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing. "I also want to extend my thanks to the community for their tireless efforts throughout this search. Without your cooperation, we could not have brought closure to this phase of such an unfortunate incident."
Military service members and authorities from Bladen and Sampson counties slogged through marshy forests Tuesday in search of Hancock, whose body was found shortly before 6 p.m. on a blueberry farm in the northeastern part of Bladen County.
The accident occurred about 6:30 p.m. Monday some 45 miles west of Marine Corps Air Station New River in Jacksonville, where the Osprey is based, on a return flight from Elizabethtown.
Marine Lt. Col. Christian Harshberger said Hancock, who was a crew chief with his unit, was accounted for when the Osprey left the airport in Elizabethtown, but he disappeared from the back of the aircraft sometime during the 35-minute flight.
Cargo doors are usually open throughout training flights, officials said.
"It was just some routine operation we do every day with hundreds of aircraft throughout eastern North Carolina," Marine spokesman First Sgt. Hector Alejandro said.
Crews searched for Hancock late Monday and returned at daybreak Tuesday.
Phoebe Campbell, a junior at North Carolina State University who recently returned home for the summer, said she was surprised to see a military command post across the street from her house.
"The roads have been blocked off. We can’t get (my sisters) to school or work," Campbell said. "The helicopters have been loud through the night."
Hundreds of Marines were bused in to assist with the ground search in the dense woods and swamps, and helicopters and Ospreys from 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing and search-and-rescue helicopters from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point were scanning the area from the air, Marine spokesman Michael Barton said.
"Our primary goal is to make sure we find this missing Marine," Alejandro said during the search. "We’re prepared to stay here as long as it takes."
The Osprey was flying at varying speeds and altitudes while returning to New River, Harshberger said, so investigators reviewed the flight data to help narrow the search area to 5 to 10 square miles.
Investigators also checked to see if cellphone towers in the area picked up a signal from Hancock's phone, Alejandro said.
"This is something that affects all of us. Anytime a Marine is missing, we’re worried," he said.