The bodies of three of the 10 servicemen on the MH-47E helicopter were recovered shortly after it crashed before dawn Friday off the southern tip of Negros island in the southern Philippines. The seven other crew members have been missing since.
"There will be an effort to recover parts of the aircraft, or maybe the whole aircraft, and hopefully the remaining bodies, not only because of the technical findings that could be achieved to determine the cause of the accident, but also for the benefit of the families of those still missing," National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said Monday.
On Sunday, Brig. Gen. Donald Wurster, head of the U.S. contingent in the military exercise, said there was "no chance" of finding any more survivors despite an extensive search. He said the rescue effort had shifted to a recovery mission at the crash site in the Bohol Sea north of Zamboanga.
Golez met Wurster at the Philippine military's Southern Command in Zamboanga city, where the headquarters of the U.S. exercise contingent is based, to express the Philippine government's "sympathy and condolences for the unfortunate and tragic accident."
He said he was briefed by Wurster on the recovery efforts and was told that the U.S. military is considering bringing in salvage equipment.
U.S. Lt. William Jewett said the crash site is more than 1,200 feet deep.
The chopper was one of two returning from Zamboanga to an air base on Mactan islet near Cebu city after dropping off special forces troops on Basilan. Witnesses reported it was on fire as it fell and exploded as it hit the water.
Philippine military officials have said that the U.S. military has requested that the wreckage not be touched.
A memorial for the crew has been scheduled Tuesday on Mactan.
About 660 U.S. soldiers, including 160 from the Special Forces, are taking part in the Balikatan or "shoulder to shoulder" exercise in Zamboanga and Basilan island aimed at wiping out the Muslim extremist Abu Sayyaf group, which has been linked to the al-Qaida terror network.
Only the Special Forces soldiers are allowed to visit Filipino front-line troops on Basilan, where Abu Sayyaf guerrillas have kidnapped American couple Martin and Gracia Burnham of Wichita, Kan., and Filipino nurse Ediborah Yap.
The U.S. soldiers will be armed only for self-defense.
About 1,500 people waving Philippine and U.S. flags rallied Sunday in Zamboanga to support the training exercise and offered prayers for the crew of a U.S. Army helicopter. The rally, led by Mayor Maria Clara Lobregat, was the biggest so far in support of the Balikatan.
Speakers at a small park outside a Philippine Air Force base used by the U.S. troops sharply criticized opponents of the exercise who have been holdinsmall but almost daily protests in Manila.
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