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Seven Marines killed in helicopter crash
Seven Marines were killed Wednesday evening, including one from Yuma, when two helicopters collided midair during a nighttime training exercise in a remote portion of the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range.
Col. Robert Kuckuk, commanding officer at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, said the accident happened at about 8 p.m. when an AH-1W Cobra and an UH-1Y Huey collided on the west side of the Chocolate Mountains in California, very close to the Arizona border, on land controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
The accident happened about 65 miles northwest of Yuma. Aerial views taken Thursday showed several trucks amid the charred remains of the helicopters.
Kuckuk said both aircraft belonged to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing based at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego. While six of the Marines were from Camp Pendleton, Kuckuk confirmed that one was a captain assigned to Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron (MAWTS)-1 at MCAS Yuma.
“Our hearts go out to the family, not just of the (Yuma Marine), but to all the families of the Marines who perished last night,” Kuckuk said. “It was a tragedy.”
The Cobra carries a crew of two, a pilot and gunner, while the UH-1Y carries a crew of one or two pilots, a crew chief and other crew members as needed. Kuckuk said the Yuma Marine was flying onboard the Huey, but he did not know what role he was performing.
Kuckuk said although the names of the Marines are being withheld pending notification of next of kin, the family of the Yuma Marine had already been contacted
According to Gunnery Sgt. Dustin Dunk, public affairs chief for MCAS Yuma, the Marines and helicopters have been at MCAS Yuma as part of Scorpion Fire, a two-week pre-deployment training for helicopter pilots.
Kuckuk said he was told both helicopters had been carrying live ordnance at the time. But he didn’t know whether they were launching or recovering it as part of the mission they were on.
Dunk said the crash remains under investigation by 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
“Today the people of Yuma and Arizona mourn the death of seven U.S. Marines killed when two helicopters collided near Yuma,” said state Sen. Don Shooter of Yuma. “It is a sad reminder that our brave service men and women face risks every day, not only abroad but here at home.
“Yuma is home to active military helicopter training, and those of us who live there see the copters overhead frequently. Today’s tragedy is a reminder that there is no such thing as a ‘routine’ training mission. Please take a moment today to pray for the family and friends of these seven Marines, and thank the men and women of our armed services for constantly protecting our freedom.”
Gov. Jan Brewer noted, “This tragedy serves as another stark and sad reminder of the peril our men and women in uniform encounter on a daily basis — not only abroad but on our own soil. It also reminds us that whether in combat or training, no military mission is ever routine. We must never take for granted nor forget these soldiers’ sacrifice and service to the United States of America.”
Several accidents have happened over the past several years involving Marine Corps training in Southern California.
In September, a helicopter went down during a training exercise at Camp Pendleton, killing the two Marines on board and setting off a fast-moving brush fire at Camp Pendleton.
In August, two Marines were ejected from their F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet as it plunged toward the Pacific Ocean. The two Marines spent four hours in the dark, chilly ocean before they were rescued. Both suffered injuries but survived.
In July, a decorated Marine from western New York was killed during a training exercise when his UH-1Y helicopter went down in a remote section of Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego.
Another Hornet sustained at least $1 million in damage when its engine caught fire on March 30 aboard the USS John C. Stennis during a training exercise about 100 miles off the San Diego coast. Eight sailors, a Marine and two civilians were injured.
A decade ago, in February 2002, a helicopter crash in the Chocolate Mountains in eastern Imperial County, Calif., killed two Camp Pendleton Marines and injured two others. The UH-1N Huey was on a routine training mission in the naval gunnery range.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.