Families hope for crash survivors

Photo by Corey J. Mendenhall

Photo by Corey J. Mendenhall

SAN DIEGO - Families of nine military members lost at sea held out hope Saturday their loved ones survived a midair collision between a Coast Guard aircraft and a Marine Corps helicopter, even as a second full day of searching dragged on with no news.

Jennifer Wiegandt Seidman she said hopes her husband, Chief Petty Officer John Seidman, was wearing a protective drysuit when he entered the chilly Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego, where water temperatures have hovered in the lower 60s.

Seidman is a flight engineer with a 23-year career in the Coast Guard.

'I don't want to let my mind go to thinking the worst,' Seidman said from the couple's home in Carmichael, Calif. 'John knows what he's doing, and he's fit and he's very smart. They're saying that they're still looking.'

The Seidmans married in 2001 and Seidman, 43, is stepfather to her three children, aged 10, 12 and 13, she said.

'I don't want to talk about him like he's gone,' she said, choking back tears.

That possibility, however, loomed large over the rescue operation Saturday as Coast Guard helicopters came and went from a landing area near a popular waterside path that teemed with joggers and bikers - nearly 48 hours after the aircraft crashed at 7:10 p.m. Thursday.

Six Coast Guard cutters, three Navy ships and multiple helicopters were searching 644 square miles of ocean, but rescuers were concentrating on a debris field 50 miles off the San Diego coast. Rescuers have found debris from both aircraft, but there was no sign of the crew members or their bodies.

The mission was still considered search and rescue, not search and recovery, Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Jetta Disco said Saturday.

Thursday's crash involved a Coast Guard C-130 with a seven-member crew and a two-person Marine Corps AH-1W Super Cobra that was flying in formation near the Navy's San Clemente Island, a site with training ranges for amphibious, air, surface and undersea warfare.

The Coast Guard airplane was itself carrying out a search for a missing boatman, 50-year-old David Jines. Jines left Avalon Harbor on Santa Catalina Island Tuesday aboard a 12-foot motorized skiff. A friend reported Jines missing the next day.

The Marine helicopter was one of two Cobras escorting transport aircraft with Marines aboard en route to a nighttime training exercise on San Clemente Island.

All seven aboard the Coast Guard plane are stationed at the Coast Guard Air Station in Sacramento, Calif., where their aircraft was based.

The aircraft commander, Lt. Cmdr. Che Barnes, 35, is from Capay, Calif. His co-pilot, Lt. Adam Bryant, 28, is from Crewe, Va.

Bryant's mother, Nina Bryant, also of Crewe, said Saturday that all she had been told was that 'they're searching and haven't found anyone yet, and they don't know whose fault it was.' She said she is 'hoping and praying' her son and the others will be found alive.

'You never know. Miracles happen,' she said.