Copter Collision Kills 7 Marines In Calif. Desert

Two Marine Corps helicopters collided in midair over a remote section of the California desert during a nighttime exercise, killing seven Marines in one of the deadliest military training accidents in years.

The latest in a series of crashes involving troops from Camp Pendleton occurred about 8 p.m. Wednesday near the Chocolate Mountains along the Arizona border and involved an AH-1W Cobra carrying two crew members and a UH-1 Huey utility helicopter carrying the other five, Lt. Maureen Dooley with Miramar Air Base in San Diego said Thursday.

Six of the victims were from Camp Pendleton - the largest base on the West Coast - and one was from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona. Their identities will not be released until their families have all been notified.

Officials were investigating the cause of the accident, gathering most of the evidence Thursday after the sun rose in the area favored by the U.S. military and its allies for training because the hot, dusty conditions and craggy mountains replicate Afghanistan's harsh environment and the clear weather allows for constant flying.

Cpl. Steven Posy with Marine Corps Air Station Miramar said the weather was mild on Wednesday night. The crash occurred in a remote portion of the Yuma Training Range Complex.

The AH-1W carries a crew of two - a pilot and gunner - and is considered the Marine Corps' main attack helicopter. The UH-1Y, which is replacing the aging version of the Huey utility helicopter first used during the Vietnam War, carries a crew of one or two pilots, a crew chief and other crew members, depending on the mission.

Several accidents have happened in the past year involving Marine training in Southern California.

In September, a twin-engine, two-seat AH-1W Cobra helicopter went down during training in a remote area of Camp Pendleton, killing two Marine pilots and igniting a brush fire that burned about 120 acres at the base north of San Diego.

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 broken bones 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.

Another Hornet sustained at least $1 million 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 California killed two Camp Pendleton Marines and injured two others. The UH-1N Huey was on a routine training mission in the Naval gunnery range.

This article was originally published on February 23, 2012.

This program aired on February 23, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.


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