All Five Aboard USMC Helicopter Confirmed Dead


All five U.S. Marines onboard a crashed CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter are confirmed dead, according to a USMC news release today (Feb. 8). The helicopter departed on what is described as part of a training mission from Creech Air Force Base near Las Vegas, Nevada, Tuesday, but was reported overdue late that night at its home base, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.

The wreckage was sighted Wednesday morning in mountainous terrain 30 miles east of its destination. Efforts by multiple government agencies to recover the remains of the victims, members of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, Heavy Helicopter Squadron 351, have been hampered by heavy snow in the Pine Valley area where the crash occurred. Their identities will not be released until 24 hours after their families have been notified, per Marine Corps policy.

As part of today’s statement, Maj. Gen. Michael Borgschulte, Commanding General of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, said, “These pilots and crewmembers were serving a calling greater than self and were proud to do so. We will forever be grateful for their call to duty and selfless service.”

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.


      • Think you meant “open mindedness,” though “mindless” might be an apt descriptor of the previous comment.

      • Pray for what? That the pilot in an afterlife will make a more informed risk assessment?
        That the USMC stops hard instructions to fly no matter the weather?
        That the USMC in future allows the PIC to decide on the hazards of the flight and the risks?
        Americans pray too much and do too little to manage aviation risks.

  1. I assume the reasonable Marine pilot would have obtained a weather forecast for his route through California’ worst storm in decades. Then the obvious questions to ask are:
    1. Did the PIC know better than to enter that weather that night?
    2. If yes – why did he then proceed? There are only two answers: a) Gungho recklessness or command pressure. Either way the USMC is culpably accountable for thr deaths and the loss of the helicopter.
    3. Did he NOT know better? a) Why not? The only answer is lack of training in hazard identification and risk management. Again culpable negligence by the USMC command.
    The USMC has a very poor record of fatal mishaps with helicopters at night. Same with the US Army. Mostly CFIT and midair collisions at night.

    • I am almost 100% wrong in my record regarding aircraft accident causal chains. How about we wait until at least a preliminary result comes in before starting to criticize those who have died as a result of their circumstances? Ironically, assuming as you have done may be just what got them into trouble in the first place.

    • Maybe all Andries questions are moot, as MAYBE the helicopter had a structural failure while it happened to be flying in terrible weather conditions. And maybe Andries is the type that always knows better, and this is his chance to broadcast all he does know. He must not know very much about helicopter failure modes, as he doesn’t question that possibility at all. Why not wait until some report comes out before laying all the blame on the pilots/Marines, or only questioning that aspect? As others point out, Military aviation is inherently a risky proposition, and training may still have to go on in adverse conditions.

  2. So were they operating VFR or IFR? If VFR, many questionable decisions. It would not have occurred if IFR unless something went wrong.

  3. Was the military playing with GPS signals once again? The helo was 30 miles east of where it should have been when coming from the northeast.

    • Or, they were staying over the desert until abeam a bit more benign area of the mountains compared to the JLI area.

    • Likely skirting the worst. As I recall, at the time the main part of the “river” had not yet moved south over the San Diego area, with lower precipitation and higher air temp the further south you went.

      Need to wait on more info on the cause…assuming they can even determine exactly what happened.

  4. To all self appointed experts who are critical of this flight crews decision to fly into adverse weather here’s a reminder, Americas war fighters have to train to fly and fight in all weather and flight conditions. This was a highly capable helicopter with a highly trained military crew. To those shooting off their mouths about something they know ZERO about, do everyone a favor and stow the armchair chirping about anyones bad judgement.

    May these fallen defenders of democracy rest in peace, a grateful nation thanks them for their ultimate sacrifice. Semper Fi brave brothers.

    • Spot on! Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Probably most of the commenters have no experience in Military Aviation. I flew in Navy helicopters for twenty years. I lost seven friends during that time. Military Aviation is a dangerous endeavor. May these fallen Patriots Rest in Peace and May God comfort their families.

  5. It’s obvious that many commenters here have no understanding of military aviation. Ever land on the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier on an overcast, moonless night? How about close air support dropping bombs with live troops on the ground in high, mountainous terrain at night using night vision goggles – with a wingman? Or maybe a night combat search and rescue mission in a helicopter in mountainous terrain, with fighter aircraft overhead providing rescue combat air support? I’m guessing many here haven’t the slightest idea of the planning, time and effort (let alone the required training and skill) necessary to successfully complete any of those missions. Perhaps we should all just not hypothesize on the mishap causal factors- and maybe think about the unbelievable grief and loss the loved ones of these fallen Marines are feeling right now. Just a thought.

  6. 1. The CH-53E Super Stallion departed Creech Air Force Base near Las Vegas, NV.
    2. It flew southbound, passing over my house, just north of PSP, while skirting the east side mountains of the Coachella Valley at low altitude.
    3. The helicopter continued southeast bound along the eastern shore of the Salton Sea, heading towards El Centro.
    4. At El Centro, KIPL, it made a westerly turn, seemingly following I-8, with the apparent intention of overflying a low terrain area near the Mexican border.
    5. Near Jacumba, the helicopter gradually turned northwesterly.
    6. The scene of the accident was a few miles from Jacumba in difficult terrain.
    7. This was not an IFR flight.