The Marine Corps said Thursday that all five Marines aboard a helicopter that went missing in Southern California this week were killed in a crash. The service did not release the names of the troops pending notification of their next of kin.
The Marines were flying in a CH-53E Super Stallion from Nevada to a Marine Corps air station near San Diego when the helicopter crashed over a mountainous area east of the city during inclement weather. The five belonged to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, which falls under the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
"It is with a heavy heart and profound sadness that I share the loss of five outstanding Marines from 3d Marine Aircraft Wing and the 'Flying Tigers' while conducting a training flight [Tuesday]," Maj. Gen. Michael Borgschulte, commanding general of 3rd MAW, said in a statement Thursday.
"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," he continued. "To the families of our fallen Marines, we send our deepest condolences and commit to ensure your support and care during this incredibly difficult time."
The statement from the Marine Corps said that efforts remain underway to recover the Marines and equipment. An investigation is also underway.
The aircraft was located in the area of Pine Valley, California, east of San Diego on Wednesday afternoon. A multi-agency search for the helicopter began in the early hours of Wednesday morning after the helicopter was reported "overdue" to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
A spokesperson for the San Diego Sheriff's Department told Military.com on Wednesday that it had received a call to assist in search operations around 1 a.m. local time. Those efforts began two hours later amid snow and rain that authorities said made the search difficult. The helicopter's last recorded location was at 11:30 p.m. local time, according to local authorities and open source flight tracking.
The Super Stallion helicopter has been involved in several high-profile and deadly crashes since its introduction to the military in the 1980s. Six years ago, four Marines from the 3rd MAW were killed after their CH-53E Super Stallion crashed near El Centro, California. In 2016, two Super Stallions collided off the coast of Hawaii -- 12 crew members were declared deceased less than a week later.