A Sea King helicopter flew into the Northern Norwegian city of Bodø Sunday evening on a solemn mission. It was carrying the bodies of four US Marines killed in a plane crash during NATO’s Cold Response winter exercises, which continue this week.
The four young dead men were part of the US Marine Corps Squadron 261 and flying as part of a training assignment in a US V-22B Osprey over Nordland. The Osprey crashed in a mountainous region Friday evening and the weather was so bad that it wasn’t possible to retrieve their bodies until Sunday.
The victims were identified Monday as Capt. Matthew J Tomkiewicz of Fort Wayne, Indiana, Capt Ross A Reynolds of Leominster, Massachusetts, Gunnery Sergeant James W Speedy of Cambridge, Ohio and Corporal Jacob M Moore from Catlettsburg, Kentucky.
Defense officials reported on Monday that they were part of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, II Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. There were no others on board the Osprey when it crashed.
Their bodies were brought back to Bodø Sunday and will remain there until they’ll be transported back to the US. The Norwegian Defense Department continues to assist civilian authorities as an investigation into the crash continues under the leadership of Norwegian Police and the state accident investigations board (Havarikommisjonen).
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that the flight recorder, which lots all data before an after an accident, had been recovered. This will help investigators in determining the cause of the crash. US authorities have “signaled” that they intend to take over the investigation, according to Kristian Vikran Karlsen of the police, “but we’ll be leading this until a decision is made.” That’s likely to be up to legal experts, since it involves an American military aircraft crashing in Norwegian territory.
Wreckage from the crash, police said, is spread over an area of around 300 meters, meaning the search area and probe into the crash will “be more demanding than first expected.”
The head of Norway’s armed forces, Gen Eirik Kristoffersen said he had “feared the worst” after being told that the US Marines’ aircraft had been reported missing Friday evening, “but I kept hoping for better news. My thoughts go to the families and colleagues of those killed.” He also thanked everyone involved in the search and rescue mission through the weekend.
It was a tragic event during NATO’s huge Cold Response winter exercises that have brought nearly 30,000 NATO troops to Norway just as Russia is raging war against Ukraine. Norwegian forces were supporting the US forces and flying all flags at half-mast on Monday.
NATO itself, meanwhile, has more support than ever in Norway, with a new public opinion poll showing that fully 86 percent of Norwegians favour NATO membership. It serves as Norway’s first line of defense, although Norway like many other countries is now rebuilding its military that had been reduced during the Cold War. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade a peaceful neighbouring country has greatly disturbed Norway, which also shares a border with Russia.
In addition to the NATO exercises underway, Norwegian defense forces are also conducting exercises in Finnmark called Winter Wolf, due to conclude on March 25. Most of the activity carried out by Finnmark landforsvar (a defense unit for the northern region) is taking place around Porsangmoen in Porsanger and defensive in nature, according to Col. Tomas Beck.