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A CH-47F Chinook tandem rotor heavy-lift helicopter, assigned to the 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, conducts flight operations with the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6).

A CH-47F Chinook tandem rotor heavy-lift helicopter, assigned to the 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, conducts flight operations with the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6). (Michael Achterling/US Navy)

A CH-47F Chinook tandem rotor heavy-lift helicopter, assigned to the 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, conducts flight operations with the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6).

A CH-47F Chinook tandem rotor heavy-lift helicopter, assigned to the 3rd General Support Aviation Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, conducts flight operations with the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6). (Michael Achterling/US Navy)

An AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopter assigned to the 4th Aerial Reconnaissance Battalion (Attack), 2nd Aviation Regiment, lands on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) April 11, 2014.

An AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopter assigned to the 4th Aerial Reconnaissance Battalion (Attack), 2nd Aviation Regiment, lands on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) April 11, 2014. (Michael Achterling/US Navy)

An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter lands on the flight deck of the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard on April 16, 2014. Sailors and Marines on board Bonhomme Richard have responded to the scene of a sinking ferry near the southwestern coast of the Republic of Korea.

An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter lands on the flight deck of the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard on April 16, 2014. Sailors and Marines on board Bonhomme Richard have responded to the scene of a sinking ferry near the southwestern coast of the Republic of Korea. (US Navy)

MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircrafts, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) (Reinforced) 265, stand ready on the flight deck of the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) April 16, 2014.

MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircrafts, assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) (Reinforced) 265, stand ready on the flight deck of the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) April 16, 2014. (US Navy)

Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit prepare combat rubber raiding crafts in the hangar bay of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard on April 16, 2014.

Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit prepare combat rubber raiding crafts in the hangar bay of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard on April 16, 2014. (US Navy)

South Korean coast guard officers try to rescue passengers from a ferry sinking in the water off the southern coast near Jindo, south of Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday, April 16, 2014.

South Korean coast guard officers try to rescue passengers from a ferry sinking in the water off the southern coast near Jindo, south of Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday, April 16, 2014. (Yonhap/AP)

SEOUL — A U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship headed to the site where a South Korean ferry sank Wednesday to help if needed, the U.S. Navy said.

The USS Bonhomme Richard was conducting a routine patrol in the Yellow Sea when the ferry began sinking about 100 nautical miles, or 115 miles, away, according to Lt. Arlo Abrahamson, spokesman for Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Korea.

The ferry was carrying 477 people, including 325 high school students, when it sent out a distress signal shortly before 9 a.m., South Korean officials said.

Two MH-60 helicopters equipped with lifeboats were initially dispatched from the Bonhomme Richard to the disaster site but have since been recalled, Abrahamson said.

The ship "has established communications with the Republic of Korea on-scene commander and is standing by to assist as required," he said.

A South Korean Navy officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said officials are waiting to see how the situation develops before requesting additional assistance from the U.S. military.

"This is about friends helping friends, and the U.S. 7th Fleet will continue to provide assistance at the request of the ROK," Abrahamson said.

The Bonhomme Richard, based out of Fleet Activities Sasebo, Japan, had been in waters near the Korean peninsula to participate in the joint U.S.-South Korean Ssang Yong amphibious landing exercise, which ended April 7, and is scheduled to conduct maritime operations west of the peninsula from April 15-18.

"Our thoughts are with the passengers of the Korean ferry that ran aground today and their families," the U.S. Embassy in Seoul said on its Facebook page.

Stars and Stripes’ Yoo Kyong Chang contributed to this report.

rowland.ashley@stripes.com Twitter: @Rowland_Stripes

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