Military helicopter with five marines on board crashes amid atmospheric river storm sweeping California

Military helicopter with five marines on board crashes amid atmospheric river storm sweeping California

Cal Fire said search efforts would "reengage" as responders began "getting daylight"

Cal Fire/San Diego County Fire
James Saunders

By James Saunders

Published: 07/02/2024

- 18:40

Updated: 12/02/2024

- 09:23

Search efforts for the aircraft have been hampered by floods, snow and even a tornado warning

Emergency response teams have launched a search and rescue mission after a military helicopter carrying five US Marines crashed on Tuesday.

The Marines were in contact with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Office in a coordinated search operation, and asked for help from Civil Air Patrol to find the craft, which was found at 9.08 am PST in Pine Valley.

The helicopter, a CH-35E ‘Super Stallion’, had left Creech Air Force Base in Nevada for Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, near San Diego, on Tuesday night.

The aircraft was “reported overdue” later that evening, with the sheriff’s office dispatching its own helicopter on a search mission after receiving a call at 1.50am on Wednesday morning.

A helicopter

The CH-35E ‘Super Stallion’ crashed en route to California last night

Matti Blume/Wikimedia Commons

Storms meant the police helicopter couldn’t reach the area where the Super Stallion was last reported, with the sheriff’s office forced to send off-road vehicles to scour the terrain instead.

Captain Stephanie Leguizamon, from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, said: “The Marines were flying a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter from Creech Air Force Base to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar on February 6, 2024, when the aircraft was reported overdue.

“The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing is coordinating search and rescue efforts with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the Civil Air Patrol.”

Captain Leguizamon said the Marines on board are assigned to Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16 of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.


An airbase from above

Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, where the helicopter was headed before crashing on Tuesday night

Wikimedia Commons

San Diego County’s fire department said “multiple agencies are searching the area”, but it was “covered in snow, making it hard to access”.

Cal Fire San Diego spokesperson Mike Cornette said the aircraft’s last ping was recorded at 11.20pm on Tuesday night.

He said search efforts had been curtailed by low visibility, and no debris had been found, but the department would “reengage” now they were “getting daylight”.

Difficulties in finding the helicopter have been compounded by a fast-moving ‘atmospheric river storm’, which set rainfall records as it blitzed through California – with more storms still yet to come.

Parts of San Diego County, where rescue efforts are underway, were handed a rare tornado warning on Tuesday.

Elsewhere in the state, LA mayor Karen Bass said Californians “cannot drop [their] guard”, while at least four people have died amid river surges, falling trees and hurricane-force winds.

The helicopter’s disappearance comes just over two months after a US Air Force Osprey aircraft crashed off the coast of Japan, killing all eight of its crew members.

Five US servicemen also died after their plane crashed during a routine training mission in the Mediterranean Sea in November 2023.

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