The Marine Corps confirmed on Thursday that five Marines had died in Tuesday’s helicopter crash east of San Diego.
The announcement from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing came after a search and rescue operation located the helicopter on Wednesday in Pine Valley, about 44 miles east of San Diego. But the military did not confirm the deaths of the Marines on board until early Thursday.
The Marines were flying from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego on a routine training flight when the aircraft, a CH-53E Super Stallion, was reported “overdue.”
Search teams, including the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the Civil Air Patrol, combed the region in bad weather that included snow and low clouds on Wednesday, Lt. Matthew Carpenter, a spokesman for the sheriff’s department, said.
On Thursday, work was continuing to recover the remains of the Marines and the equipment, the military said. The Marines were not identified. It was not immediately clear what caused the crash, and an investigation was underway, the statement said.
Maj. Gen. Michael J. Borgschulte, the commanding general of the wing, said in its statement that he was sharing the news of the fatalities with “a heavy heart and profound sadness,” and he expressed condolences to the Marines’ families.
President Biden said in a statement from the White House that he and the first lady, Jill Biden, were “heartbroken” over the loss.
“As the Department of Defense continues to assess what occurred, we extend our deepest condolences to their families, their squadron, and the U.S. Marine Corps as we grieve the loss of five of our nation’s finest warriors,” he said.
The Marines on board were part of the Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, the Marine Aircraft Group 16, and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
The CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter, which is used to carry heavy loads such as vehicles, cargo and personnel, has been used by the Marine Corps since 1981. There were 136 of them still in operation in 2021.
The Super Stallion, among the largest and heaviest helicopters flown by the American military, has been involved in various crashes in training and war.
In 2016, 12 marines died when two CH-53E helicopters collided off the coast of Hawaii. In 2002, two Marines were killed and five were injured when their helicopter crashed in the mountains of Afghanistan while carrying supplies to U.S. forces. In 2005, a CH-53E went down in western Iraq, killing 30 Marines and one sailor.
In 1987, a CH-53E crashed while practicing night landings in California, killing five Marines. In 1996, four civilian employees of Sikorsky Aircraft Co., the manufacturer, were killed when a CH-53E crashed on a test flight in Connecticut.
The aircraft, which is no longer in production, went through a period of upgrades to be replaced by a newer version, the CH-53K King Stallion.
“As the Marine Corps investigates this deadly crash, it is yet another reminder that across our nation and the world our selfless service members put their lives on the line every day to keep our country safe,” Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said in a statement on Thursday about the five Marines who died in California.
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.
First appeared on www.nytimes.com