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US Military Pilots Missing in South Korea After Helicopter Vanishes

A search is underway in the forested mountains of South Korea for two missing American military pilots. Their helicopter vanished during a training flight northeast of Seoul.

The U.S. military estimates that about 2,000 American and South Korean soldiers, as well as South Korean police, are searching for the pilots. Their Apache helicopter disappeared from radar screens early Thursday.

The U.S. military has identified the missing as 23 year-old 1st Lieutenant Dustin Shannon and 40 year old Chief Warrant Officer James Wallenburg.

Their helicopter disappeared early Thursday after taking off from a U.S. military base 80 kilometers northeast of Seoul. It was flying to another U.S. base southeast of the capital as part of a night training mission.

U.S. Army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Steven Boylan said that the fate of the crew is unknown. "We have had no radio contact with either of the two pilots of the aircraft since they departed the airfield. We are still searching and remain hopeful that we will find them healthy, but at this time we just do not know what happened," he said.

Colonel Boylan said the mountainous terrain and thick clouds are hampering the search. "There are steep cliffs, very dense forests and the equivalent of what we call triple canopy vegetation," he said. "It is very, very dense and it is difficult if not impossible to see down through it from the air. Heavy rains hampered our search the first night."

Two U.S. Army pilots survived the crash of a similar aircraft in South Korea on August 1. That incident is now under investigation. The U.S. military has maintained a presence in South Korea since the end of fighting in the Korean War in 1953. About 37,000 troops are currently stationed in the country.