Rescue and recovery efforts for possible survivors of a helicopter crash in California’s Pine Valley have been heavily hampered by weather. The craft went down in a blizzard sometime early Wednesday morning, February 7. Crews are fighting their way to the remote location of the wreckage in search of five Marines. Update: All five aboard were deceased.
Crash site located
It wasn’t easy to find the crash site, getting rescue and recovery crews to the remote location quickly turned into a logistical nightmare. At first, all the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing knew was that the CH-53E Super Stallion was “overdue.”
They don’t like to make scheduling details widely circulated information, so nobody is clear when it took off. They do know that it was expected to leave Creech Air Force Base near Las Vegas late Tuesday night and fly to San Diego.
Once they started looking, crash wreckage was spotted in a mountainous area of southern California. Searchers with Cal Fire and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department headed out before dawn to comb though “difficult, muddy terrain for the aircraft amid a rain-snow mix.”
— One America News (@OANN) February 7, 2024
There haven’t been any official updates since. This remains a developing story and we’ll update with anything notable which unfolds.
According to a statement by Captain Stephanie Leguizamon with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, “the Marines were flying a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter from Creech Air Force Base to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar on February 6, 2024, when the aircraft was reported overdue.” She didn’t say why they were flying.
It’s general knowledge that “the CH-53E is a heavy-lift helicopter that can move troops and equipment and carry as much as 16 tons of cargo.” It’s also been implicated in a few other recent crash incidents. “The Marines onboard the wrecked craft are assigned to Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16.”
Wind and snow conditions
The weather station at Pine Valley was only reporting gusts of 20 mph but the experts note winds were certainly much stronger at the higher elevations.
Radar confirms “a heavy band of precipitation swept through the area between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.” While that was rain at lower elevations, it was a blizzard in the mountains, where the crash occurred.
When the first report of a lost aircraft came in at 2:20 a.m., spokesperson Mike Cornette relates, “Cal Fire San Diego deployed three fire engines and an ambulance.”
— CBS News (@CBSNews) February 7, 2024
The last transponder ping from the chopper was recorded at 11:20 p.m. Tuesday, indicating the crash happened shortly after.
Rescue crews “searched in Lake Morena, near a trailhead in the Cleveland National Forest.” They were hampered by “heavy snow and winter conditions,” forcing them “to pull back before reengaging.”
They eventually did reach the crash site, thanks to an assist from the Sheriff’s Department and some 4×4 Jeeps but no word has made it back about what they found.