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Rescue Crews Search for Missing Marines After Discovering Military Helicopter in California Forest

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U.S. Military Helicopter
Source: CBSNewsTexas/X

Search and rescue teams are combing through California’s forests after discovering a missing military helicopter. The urgency of the search has intensified as five Marines are yet to be found. The distress call came in, triggering a rapid response from authorities and military personnel.  

A CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter was assigned to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. But it vanished from radar during a routine training exercise near California’s border with Oregon. The military helicopter was found in Southern California’s Pine Valley. Everyone is concerned as there is no more extended communication with the aircraft, leaving families and colleagues anxiously awaiting any news.

The aircraft was “reported overdue” on February 6, 2024, in transit from a base near Las Vegas to one in San Diego. California Firefighters, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, Civil Air Patrol, and other agencies have coordinated efforts to search the expansive area where the aircraft was last believed to be.

“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,” Captain. Stephanie Leguizamon with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing stated.

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Unfortunately, there have been challenges with the search and rescue operation. Thick forests and unpredictable weather have made locating the aircraft and its crew difficult. Cal Fire San Diego spokesperson Mike Cornette told CNN that responders searched in Lake Morena, near a trailhead in the Cleveland National Forest. 

However, “heavy snow and winter conditions” obstructed them, forcing them to pull back before re-engaging on Wednesday. But despite the challenging conditions, search teams use specialized equipment and employ different search techniques to succeed. 

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The CH-53E is a heavy-lift helicopter capable of transporting troops and equipment. According to the US Navy, it can carry up to 16 tons of cargo. The Marines aboard the downed aircraft are from Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, according to Leguizamon.

On that Tuesday evening, winds were gusting up to 20 mph near Pine Valley, approximately 40 miles east of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. It’s possible that winds were even more potent at higher elevations. Radar data revealed that heavy precipitation was moving through the area between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. It rained at lower elevations and snowed at higher ones.

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Cal Fire San Diego immediately responded to the initial report of the lost aircraft at 2:20 a.m. They deployed three fire engines and an ambulance. Unfortunately, the last ping from the plane was recorded at 11:20 p.m. on Tuesday.

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The Sheriff’s Department has also joined in the search. However, they are also faced with the challenges of the weather conditions. “The current weather conditions are a mixture of snow and rain,” their news release stated, and “the Sheriff’s Department is currently using 4×4 Jeeps to search the area due to the difficult and muddy terrain.”

Over the past decade, Super Stallion helicopters have been involved in several accidents. At least two of these accidents resulted in fatalities. As the search continues, hope remains alive that the missing helicopter and its crew will be found safe and sound.

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