Search and rescue teams in California successfully located a U.S. Marine CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter, which was carrying five U.S. service members, in the Pine Valley area of California on Wednesday morning.
The helicopter had failed to arrive on schedule at the San Diego-area Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, prompting a search and rescue operation.
According to defense officials, the Marines were operating a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter departing from Creech Air Force Base, located northwest of Las Vegas. They were returning home to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego after completing unit-level training.
Southern California has been experiencing severe weather conditions due to an atmospheric river storm, leading to flooding and landslides in the region.
The challenging terrain in the area complicated search and rescue efforts, with sheriff’s deputies deploying off-road vehicles to aid in the search for the missing Marines.
Heavy rainfall persisted throughout the night, with snowfall predicted in the San Diego County mountains.
The five U.S. Marines were members of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, stationed at Miramar, as stated by the Marine Corps.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department was informed at 1 a.m. that the helicopter was overdue for arrival at Miramar and was last spotted in the Pine Valley area, approximately 35 miles (56 kilometers) east of downtown San Diego, according to Lt. Matthew Carpenter.
The military was collaborating with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the Civil Air Patrol in conducting search and rescue operations, as confirmed by the Marine Corps.
The National Weather Service in San Diego predicted snowfall ranging from 6 to 10 inches (15 to 25 centimeters) in the mountains above 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), accompanied by strong winds late Wednesday. Although a tornado warning was issued on Tuesday afternoon, it was swiftly canceled, with the weather service determining that the storm lacked the potential to spawn a tornado.
The CH-53E Super Stallion, measuring approximately 99 feet (30 meters) in length, is the largest and heaviest helicopter in the military fleet. It possesses the capability to transport troops and equipment across rugged terrain and adverse weather conditions, including nighttime operations, as outlined on the Marine Corps website. Due to the substantial downwash generated by its three engines, it is also affectionately known as the “hurricane maker.”
In a notable historical event, two CH-53E helicopters were employed in January 1990 to evacuate American and foreign allies from the U.S. embassy in the war-torn capital of Mogadishu, Somalia.