• Crews found a debris field a mile southwest of the island
  • MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter joined the authorities to search the waters for survivors
  • The identities of the three passengers haven't been released

A massive search is underway for three people who were onboard a civilian aircraft contracted by the U.S. Navy when it crashed in the Pacific Ocean off Southern California on Wednesday.

Authorities from the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Navy have joined forces to search for the three civilian passengers — all male — after the Phoenix Learjet crashed near the Navy-owned San Clemente Island just before 8 a.m.

Crews found a debris field a mile southwest of the island, as per U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson Levi Read.

"That is the last known location of the aircraft that we had suspected crashed," Read said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "We are in an active search situation at this point for the three people on board."

Watchstanders at the Joint Harbor Operations Center in San Diego received the initial reports about the plane at around 7:53 a.m. An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter joined the authorities at about 9 a.m., soon after launching the rescue mission, to search the waters for survivors, Read added.

Drew Verbis, a spokesperson for Naval Base Ventura County, said the non-military contract passenger aircraft left Naval Air Station Point Mugu, near Oxnard, earlier in the morning. However, the aircraft's scheduled destination remains unknown.

Shortly after take-off, the plane lost contact with air traffic controllers about a mile from San Clemente Island, which lies 65 miles off the coast of San Diego.

There was reportedly an emergency aboard the aircraft that forced it to not make it back to the runway, NBC reported, citing Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility (FACSFAC).

The identities of the three men on board the aircraft haven't been released by the authorities. The aircraft was contracted by the U.S. Navy, most likely for travel or transportation-related tasks, OC Register reported.

The Navy has a number of small aircraft that are contracted for shuttle flights just like a bus.

The National Transportation Safety Board described the aircraft as a Gates Lear Jet 36A airplane, adding that it was investigating the crash.

Meanwhile, there have been multiple crashes around the island, particularly during military training exercises, in recent years. In July 2020, eight Marines from Camp Pendleton and one Navy sailor were killed when an amphibious assault vehicle sank near San Clemente Island. Another Black Hawk helicopter crash resulted in the killing of two soldiers during training on the island in the same year.

Representational image (plane crash)
Representational image (Source: Pixabay / LalouBLue) Pixabay / LalouBLue