Photo, above: CH-53E Super Stallion

By Thomas Madison

Two Marine Corps CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters, with a total of twelve Marines onboard, have been lost off of Oahu’s north shore, near the popular surf town of Haleiwa.

It is believed that the two aircraft collided in midair during a training exercise Thursday night, around 11:40 Hawaii time.

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A debris field has been discovered roughly two miles offshore, but no survivors have been found.

Thirty-foot to forty-foot waves are complicating the search and rescue effort with unusually high winter surf along Oahu’s north shore. The famous “North Shore” of Oahu is one of the world’s most popular surf locales.

From Niraj Chokshi and Dan Lamothe, The Washington Post 

A dozen marines are missing after a pair of helicopters collided off the northern coast of the Hawaiian island of Oahu overnight Thursday. All twelve remain unaccounted for as of mid-day Friday.

A search is ongoing following the collision of the two CH-53 helicopters, Capt. Philip Kulczewski, a spokesman at Marine Corps headquarters at the Pentagon, told The Post on Friday morning. The CH-53 is the Marine Corps’ largest helicopter, capable of carrying more than 20 Marines each. The aircraft that collided were carrying a combined 12 people.

The aircraft were assigned to the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, Kulczewski said. It has squadrons spread across the West Coast and Pacific.

Emergency teams arrived at the scene just after midnight local time (5 a.m. Eastern) to find burning wreckage in the water and an empty life raft.

“Crews discovered a life raft with no one on board and visible flames on the water,” Coast Guard Petty Officer Sara Mooers told HawaiiNewsNow.

The aircraft were reportedly from the Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay. The Honolulu Fire Department and U.S. Navy assisted with the effort.

Initial reports of the crash came in around 11:40 p.m. local time with at least one witness reporting seeing a fireball. The debris had moved from about a half-mile offshore when it was discovered just after midnight to about eight miles offshore by 5:30 a.m. local time.

Rough weather has complicated the search. Waves in the area were expected to rapidly build to 30 to 40 feet by Friday morning.