LT Sean Christopher Snyder died when the helicopter he was piloting crashed off the coast of Virginia.
U.S. Navy
LT Sean Christopher Snyder died when the helicopter he was piloting crashed off the coast of Virginia.

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NEW: The search spanned more than 500 square miles

Three sailors died in the crash; two others were injured

The helicopter issued a distress call January 8 and went down soon after

(CNN) —  

The search has been suspended for a U.S. Navy sailor missing after the crash of a MH-53E Sea Dragon off Virginia’s southern coast, a Coast Guard official said Thursday.

Divers searching the wreckage of the MH-53E Sea Dragon recovered the body of Lt. Sean Christopher Snyder, 39, from the chopper’s cockpit Tuesday, the Navy said.

“Sean was a man of honor and a true hero, not only to his country but also to his wife, children, family and friends,” his family said in a statement.

The helicopter, with a crew of five, went down January 8 about 20 miles east of Cape Henry. The cause is under investigation.

In addition to Snyder, two sailors died: Lt. Wesley Van Dorn, 29; and Petty Officer 3rd Class Brian Collins, 25.

Two others were injured.

The helicopter set off from Norfolk to conduct “routine mine countermeasure operations,” said Capt. Todd Flannery, commander of the Navy’s Helicopter Sea Combat Wing Atlantic, based in Norfolk.

The first apparent sign of trouble came about 10:45 a.m., when the aircraft’s crew issued a distress call.

It went down soon thereafter, with a second MH-53E Sea Dragon operating in the same area providing “immediate support,” according to Flannery.

Since then, rescue and recovery crews scoured more than 500 square miles looking for Snyder.

Poor weather conditions forced officials to suspend the search late Monday. When the work resumed Tuesday, Snyder’s body was recovered.

The helicopter was assigned to Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 14 (HM-14), based at Naval Station Norfolk (Chambers Field).

The MH-53E Sea Dragon carries no weapons. It has two pilots and a crew of one to six, depending on its mission, according to the Navy.