Rescuers search for 5 Marines after spotting helicopter in California jungle


Rescuers at the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing are searching for five U.S. Marines in Pine Valley, Southern California, after they found their military helicopter. said Wednesday.

The CH-53E Super Stallion was “reported delayed” late Tuesday en route from a base near Las Vegas to a base in San Diego, the US Marine Corps said.

Early Wednesday morning, searchers scoured difficult, muddy terrain for the plane amid a rain-snow mix, according to Cal Fire and the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

“The Marines were flying a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter from Creech Air Force Base to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar on Feb. 6, 2024, when the flight was reported delayed,” said Capt. Stephanie Leguizamon with the 3rd Marine Aviation Division. The Civil Air Patrol is also involved in the search operation.

The CH-53E is a heavy duty helicopter capable of moving troops and equipment and carrying 16 tons of cargo. According to the US Navy. The Marines aboard the wreck were assigned to Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, Leguizamon said.

Winds gusted to 20 mph Tuesday evening near Pine Valley, about 40 miles east of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Winds can be strong at higher altitudes.

Between 10pm and 4am, the radar indicated rain at lower elevations and snow at higher elevations.

California firefighters are among those searching for the missing helicopter, Cal Fire San Diego spokesman Mike Garnett told CNN.

Call Fire San Diego dispatched three fire engines and an ambulance after receiving the first report of the missing plane at 2:20 a.m. The last ping was recorded at 11:20 p.m. Tuesday, Garnett said.

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Responders searched Lake Morena near a pass in the Cleveland National Forest, but were hampered by “severe snow and winter conditions” and were forced to pull back before resuming Wednesday, he said.

The sheriff's department also faced difficult conditions in the search, which began about 3 a.m. two hours after receiving a call about the missing helicopter, according to a news release sent before the plane was found.

“Current weather conditions are a mix of snow and rain,” and “the Sheriff's Department is currently using 4×4 Jeeps to search the area due to rough and muddy terrain,” the release said.

Super Stallion helicopters have been involved in several crashes over the past decade, at least two of which were fatal.

Lance Cpl. Jennifer Sanchez/US Marine Corps/File

A CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter taxis at Innokern Airfield, California in 2023.

In 2016, 12 Marines Two CH-53E helicopters killed in collision during night training near Hawaii – crash military investigators Reportedly due to pilot error. Two years later, four crew members were killed A super stallion crashes During a training mission near El Centro, California.

The effect of another incident was considered “a miracle at sea:”. 25 marines and naval sailors survived In 2014 a CH-53E crashed while attempting to land on an amphibious transport dock at sea.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the area where responders first searched. It is Lake Morena.

CNN meteorologist Monica Garrett contributed to this report.

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