Missing Marine Corps Helicopter Found in Southern California; Search and Rescue Ongoing

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U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion
A U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, flies over for the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) Demonstration during the 2023 Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Airshow in San Diego, Sept. 22, 2023. (Jackson Rush/U.S. Marine Corps)

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout to reflect that the helicopter has been located.

After a Marine Corps helicopter went missing Tuesday, authorities said they have located the aircraft in Southern California. Search-and-rescue operations for the five Marines aboard were ongoing as of Wednesday afternoon.

The Marines were flying in a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter out of Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, on its way to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, when the aircraft was reported overdue, according to the Marine Corps. The aircraft was located in the vicinity of Pine Valley, California, on Wednesday morning local time.

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The service said that it was working with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and Civil Air Patrol to search for the aircraft. The helicopter belongs to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, a unit out of MCAS Miramar that falls under I Marine Expeditionary Force. A spokesperson for the 3rd MAW could not give a status for the aircraft.

"The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing is managing search-and-rescue efforts through the Wing Operations Command and using ground and aviation assets to locate the aircrew in coordination with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and multiple federal, state and local agencies," a press release from the Marine Corps said Wednesday. 

A spokesperson for the sheriff's department told Military.com on Wednesday that it had gotten a call regarding a missing military helicopter at 1 a.m. Pacific time. Search-and-rescue efforts began by 3 a.m.

Weather conditions in the area were a mixture of snow and rain, according to Lt. David LaDieu, a spokesperson for the sheriff's department, making search efforts more difficult. Mike Cornette, a spokesperson for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, confirmed to Military.com that the helicopter's last location was recorded at 11:30 p.m. local time.

Open source flight information reviewed by Military.com showed a CH-53 Super Stallion having previously operated under the call sign Tiger 11 flying west from El Centro, California; its last known location, according to the flight tracker, was recorded late Tuesday night and in the vicinity of the reported discovery site.  

The Marines are assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361 of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing in California. Their nickname is the Flying Tigers.

In 2018, four Marines from the 3rd MAW were killed after their CH-53E Super Stallion crashed near El Centro, California, during a routine training mission. Two years later, the families of those killed in the crash launched a lawsuit against two companies involved in developing the aircraft, alleging that faulty parts contributed to the crash

In 2005, while operating in Al Anbar province in Iraq, a Super Stallion crashed, killing 31 troops aboard -- the deadliest single incident of the Iraq War at the time, according to The New York Times. 

The Super Stallion is the Corps' primary heavy-lift helicopter and has been in service for more than three decades.

The missing helicopter comes as the Marine Corps grapples with issues on another platform, the V-22 Osprey, a dual-rotor aircraft that recently saw a deadly incident that killed three Marines during a routine training exercise off the coast of Australia. Another incident that involved the Osprey killed eight airmen off the coast of Japan in late November. 

The November crash caused the military to ground the aircraft without a specified end date. In the meantime, the Marine Corps said that certain units have relied on other aircraft, like the Super Stallion, to pick up the slack lost from the Osprey grounding.

CBS News 8, a local TV news outlet in San Diego, reported that the San Diego County Fire Department and the U.S. Border Patrol are assisting in the search for the five Marines. The news station also reported that the Marines belong to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16.

Related: Marine Corps Identifies 3 Troops Killed in Osprey Crash During Australia Training

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