Missing Marine Helicopter Located; Search for Crew Continues

A Marine CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter, like the one shown in this photo, was “reported overdue” by Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego early Wednesday. (U.S. Navy/TNS)

(Los Angeles Times/TNS) — Search-and-rescue crews found a military helicopter on Wednesday morning, several hours after the aircraft was reported missing en route to a Marine air station in San Diego with five Marines aboard.

The helicopter was found just after 9 a.m. in Pine Valley, about 40 miles east of San Diego, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing announced in a news release. The Marine Corps is managing the search-and-rescue efforts on the ground and in the air to find the crewmen.

No information was immediately available about the condition of the helicopter.

Those aboard the flight were assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, according to a statement from the Marine Corps’ 3rd Aircraft Wing. The crew was aboard a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter, which was reported overdue after leaving Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nev., on Tuesday. The helicopter was en route to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.

The helicopter was flying into treacherous weather in California, which had been inundated with three days of relentless rain.

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

The Associated Press reported that President Joe Biden was briefed on the missing Marines, according to White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who answered questions as the president flew to New York City for campaign fundraisers.

“We’re watching this closely and again our thoughts are for the best,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection received word about the missing helicopter at 2:20 a.m. The last known contact with the crew was at 11:30 p.m., according to Cal Fire San Diego Capt. Mike Cornette.

Firefighters and paramedics were provided a set of coordinates by the Marine Corps in Lake Morena, a remote area in the Cleveland National Forest. The search efforts were hampered by “heavy snow and muddy terrain,” Cornette said.

The U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the Civil Air Patrol assisted in the search.

Overnight, visibility in the area was poor because of snow, rain and gusty winds, according to meteorologist Philip Gonsalves with the National Weather Service in San Diego. Those conditions would have been in play for most of the night and into the morning, Gonsalves said.

“Those conditions are still going to be bad right now,” he added.

The helicopter was initially reported missing north of Interstate 8, southeast of Pine Valley, a remote mountain community. The terrain where firefighters were instructed to search was covered in snow, making it difficult for them to continue on foot, according to Cal Fire.

The region is within the Cleveland National Forest, which spans 720 square miles across San Diego, Riverside and Orange counties. The helicopter was discovered in Pine Valley, nestled in the Cuyamaca Mountains, according to officials.

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