Missing Marine Corps helicopter with 5 aboard found in California: NPR

Marine Corps Air Station Miramar is shown on Aug. 25, 2023, in San Diego. Search crews found the Marine Corps helicopter in the mountains outside San Diego early Wednesday morning.

Nelvin C. Sebeda/AP


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Nelvin C. Sebeda/AP

Marine Corps Air Station Miramar is shown on Aug. 25, 2023, in San Diego. Search crews found the Marine Corps helicopter in the mountains outside San Diego early Wednesday morning.

Nelvin C. Sebeda/AP

SAN DIEGO — A Marine Corps helicopter that went missing with five troops aboard during a historic storm that continues to drench California was found Wednesday morning in a mountain area outside San Diego.

The plane was found by civil authorities shortly after 9 a.m. near the mountain community of Pine Valley, about 45-miles (72-kilometers) from San Diego, but rescuers said avalanche conditions made access on the ground challenging.

They “coordinated with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and several federal, state and local agencies to use ground and air assets to locate the aircrew,” the Marine Corps said in a statement.

The Marines were flying a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter from Creech Air Force Base, northwest of Las Vegas, where they were conducting unit-level training and returning home to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, defense officials said.

It was not immediately clear what time the helicopter left Creech and what time they would arrive. Waves of heavy rain pounded the area overnight and snow was forecast for the mountains of San Diego County.

The five U.S. Marines were assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing in Miramar, the Marine Corps said in a statement.

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department was notified at 1 a.m. that the vessel was delayed in arriving in Miramar and was last seen in the Pine Valley area, a mountainous area near the Cleveland National Forest about 35 miles (56 kilometers) east of downtown San Diego. Diego, Lt. Matthew Carpenter said.

The Marine Corps said the military is coordinating search and rescue efforts with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and the Civil Air Patrol.

Heavy snow on Wednesday is a challenge for unpopulated mountains covered in pine trees and thick brush, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, said in a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter. The agency said it has requested additional resources and is coordinating with the military, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Border Patrol, the San Diego Sheriff's Department and the state Civil Air Patrol.

Cleveland National Forest covers 720 square miles (1,860 square kilometers) and many areas of its steep, rocky hills have limited trails.

The National Weather Service in San Diego predicted 6 to 10 inches (15 to 25 centimeters) of snow in the mountains above 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) and strong winds late Wednesday. A tornado warning was issued Tuesday afternoon but was quickly canceled with the weather service saying the storm was not capable of making a diversion.

President Joe Biden was briefed on the missing Marines, said White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre, who answered questions as the president flew to New York City for a campaign fundraiser.

“We're watching this closely,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said.

At about 99 feet (30 meters) long, the CH-53E Super Stallion is the largest and heaviest helicopter in the military. According to the Marine Corps website, it can move troops and equipment over rough terrain in inclement weather, including at night. It was nicknamed the “Hurricane Maker” due to the amount of downwash generated by its three engines.

Two CH-53E helicopters were used to rescue U.S. and foreign allies from the U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu, Somalia's civil war-torn capital, in January 1990.

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