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6 killed in Afghanistan were Hawaii-based Marines

U.S. officials say there was no sign of enemy fire and the crash is still under investigation. NBC's Lester Holt reports.

HONOLULU -- All six Marines killed in the crash of a U.S. helicopter in Afghanistan were based in Hawaii, a Hawaii congresswoman said Friday.

The CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter crashed Thursday in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand.

U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said Friday she's saddened to hear of the deaths. Her spokeswoman, Ashley Nagaoka Boylan, said the congresswoman was notified Thursday evening that all six Marines were Hawaii-based.

"All who have called Hawaii home are part of our island ohana, and every loss like this touches us deeply," Hanabusa said in a statement, using the Hawaiian word for family.

The commander of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363,  Lt. Col. Mark Revor, said on the unit's Facebook page that all six killed were from the Kaneohe-based unit, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

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A senior U.S. defense official confirmed all six were Marines on condition of anonymity because the U.S. command in Afghanistan had not yet publicly released details.

Family members identified one of those killed as Marine Cpl. Kevin Reinhard, 25, of the Colonia section of Woodbridge, the Newark Star-Ledger reported. Reinhard was a 2005 graduate of St. Joseph High School in Metuchen.

An obituary written by his family and provided to The Star-Ledger said Reinhard, based in Hawaii, was a crew chief who served on Sikorsky Sea Stallion helicopters.

"For his family and friends he was already a hero ... before he ever put on a uniform for his country," his relatives wrote. "The uniform only announced to the rest of the world what a wonderful man, what a wonderful soul he was — that he was a hero for all of us."

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Reinhard joined the Marine Corps in 2008 and was with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363, the Lucky Red Lions.

The unit deployed in late August to southern Afghanistan and is scheduled to return home in March, Hawaii News Now reported. The unit's mission is to provide assault support, transport Marines and critical supplies, as well as equipment during expeditionary operations

The CH-53D, a Vietnam War-era helicopter, is the same model as one that crashed and killed a Marine in a bay off Hawaii on March 29. An investigation later revealed mechanical failure caused that accident.

The defense official said there is no indication that the helicopter in Afghanistan was hit by enemy fire.

'Tragic news'
Thursday's crash was the deadliest in Afghanistan since August, when 30 American troops died after a Chinook helicopter was apparently shot down in Wardak province in the center of the country.

The cause of the latest crash is still being investigated, but a statement issued by the NATO international military coalition said there was no enemy activity in the area when it happened.

German Brig. Gen. Carsten Jacobson, a spokesman for the NATO coalition in Kabul, said officials were looking at a "technical fault" as the possible culprit.

"The helicopter is one of the safest forms of transport," Jacobson said. He said not only does it protect troops the danger of roadside bombs on the ground, but it is well-tested, well-proven way to travel.

Previous story: 6 Marines die in Afghanistan copter crash

CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters were first used in the 1960s, and the Marine Corps used them in the Vietnam War.

All Sea Stallions still used operationally are stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay. The military plans to replace them with the MV-22 Osprey.

"The loss of the six U.S. Marines in yesterday's helicopter crash in Afghanistan comes as tragic news for our island community and our nation," U.S. Rep. Mazie K. Hirono, of Hawaii, said in a statement. "We owe them and all of our brave servicemen and women a debt of gratitude for their dedication to our country."

In 2005, the same base lost 27 Marines when a CH-53E Super Stallion deployed to Iraq crashed during a desert sandstorm. Altogether, 30 Marines and a Navy medic were killed in that crash.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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