MIAMI -- Coast Guard, Navy and Air Force units searched Tuesday for five members of a U.S.-Bahamian drug-smuggling prevention squad missing since their Air Force helicopter was ditched at sea north of the island capital of Nassau.
The Coast Guard said four others aboard the helicopter were rescued within four hours of the incident, which occurred Monday night.
Frank Chellino, a spokesman for the federal Drug Enforcement Agency in Miami, said the nine men were working on a joint U.S.-Bahamas special operation to curtail drug smuggling.
Chellino said the men were investigating a report a DC-3 cargo plane had dumped a shipment of drugs into the ocean. The DEA in Washington said the men suspected the plane would be making an air drop of narcotics near Bimini. No such plane was ever found and the crew was returning home when the pilot reported, at 9:08 p.m. EST Monday, that the helicopter had developed mechanical problems. In Washington, DEA administrator Francis Mullen said the pilot of the Huey twin-engine helicopter radioed before the crash that he lost power in both engines and was forced to ditch in the sea about 10 miles north of Nassau.
The crew included four Royal Bahamian police officers, four Air Force personnel and one DEA agent, Chellino said.
Petty Officer Dan Waldschmidt of the Coast Guard station in Miami said Coast Guard and Navy rescue vessels dispatched to the scene 10 miles north of Nassau picked up four of the men -- two just before midnight and the other two early Tuesday.
Still missing were U.S. Air Force Capt. Dyke Whitbeck, Air Force Lt. Thomas Hamby, special DEA Agent Larry Carwell of Houston, Air Force Sgt. Edgurdo Acha and Royal Bahamian Police Cpl. Autry Jones.
The Coast Guard rescued Air Force Sgt. Paul Carter, who suffered spinal injuries, and Royal Bahamian Police Sgt. Oswald Ferguson, who was hospitalized in Nassau with a broken leg.
Royal Bahamian police Cpl. David Emmanual and Constable Selzin Evans were rescued by the Navy frigate Koelsh. There was no word on the extent of their injuries.
The search for the missing men involved a Coast Guard jet, four Coast Guard helicopters, four Air Force aircraft, the Coast Guard cutter Cape Current and the Koelsh, Waldschmidt said.
The Air Force officers were assigned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Helbert Air Field, Ft. Walton Beach, Fla.
Their hometowns were not released.