Fellow Marines kept vigil over helicopter crash site where five died near Pine Valley

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

A military official issued a brief statement Thursday about the helicopter crash that killed five U.S. Marines aboard a helicopter that went down during stormy weather in the mountains outside of San Diego.

Col. James Ford of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing told the media at the 3:30 news conference that all those who were aboard the aircraft were located at the scene of the crash. The Marines’ next-of-kin were all notified in person about their deaths on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, according to Ford.

Since they were found, Ford said, fellow Marines have remained vigilant at their side, near the small East County community of Pine Valley. Their remains were and continue to be guarded by brothers and sisters, Ford said.

NBC 7 went live during the news conference on Feb. 8, 2024, when Col. James Ford of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing issued a brief statement about the helicopter crash that killed five U.S. Marines aboard in the mountains outside of San Diego.

On Thursday, military operations shifted to a focus on a recovery mission, which, due to the weather, was currently taking place on the ground.

Ford said the Marine Corps will continue to focus on the families through their difficult days ahead.

The victims have not yet been publicly identified, nor did Ford take any questions from the media at the news conference.

The five Marines were traveling on the CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter, flying from Creech Air Force Base in Clark County, Nevada, to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, when it was reported “overdue” Tuesday, the Marine Corps said. They had been conducting unit-level training in Vegas before their return.

“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,” Maj. Gen. Michael J. Borgschulte, commander of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, said in a statement.

The names of the Marines were not immediately released. Efforts to recover the remains of the Marines and equipment have begun and an investigation is underway, it was confirmed in a release.

NBC 7’s Steven Luke reports breaking news.

President Joe Biden said in a statement that he and first lady Jill Biden are “heartbroken” to learn of the Marines’ deaths.

“Our service members represent the very best of our nation — and these five Marines were no exception,” Biden said. “As the Department of Defense continues to assess what occurred, we extend our deepest condolences to their families, their squadron, and the U.S. Marine Corps as we grieve the loss of five of our nation’s finest warriors.”

California Governor Gavin Newsom also issued a statement:

“California joins the nation in mourning the tremendous loss of these Marines. Jennifer and I send our heartfelt condolences to their families, loved ones, and fellow service members during this painful time. Their dedication to serving our country will always be remembered.”

The flags at the State Capitol and Capitol Annex Swing Space will be flown at half-staff in honor of the Marines.

The last known location of the helicopter came from a ping to Cal Fire’s dispatch center at about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. Cal Fire sent several engines and an ambulance to the area overnight. The helicopter was found in Pine Valley at around 9:08 a.m. Wednesday, MCAS Miramar said.

Ground and aviation teams continued their search for the aircrew near Interstate 8 and Kitchen Creek Road.

The military worked with federal, state and local agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Border Patrol, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the state Civil Air Patrol.

A U.S. CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter manuevers in position during training exercise with Philippine Marines September 20, 2013 in Cavite province, Philippines.

Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images

A U.S. CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter maneuvers in position during a training exercise with Philippine Marines on September 20, 2013, in Cavite province, Philippines.

The search comes as San Diego is experiencing a winter storm that has produced heavy rain since Tuesday night and has brought several inches of snow to the mountains.

Rescue crews have been combatting the difficult terrain to rescue the five Marines reportedly on board the CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter. NBC 7’s Amber Frias reports on Feb. 7, 2024.

The CH-53E Super Stallion is the heavy-lift helicopter used by Marines around the world. It is capable of rapidly transporting troops and equipment from ship-to-shore: launching amphibious assaults, facilitating logistics and maintenance, providing sustainment and supplies, and equipping the warfighter for mission success, according to the Navy.

The helicopter was en route to MCAS Miramar when the aircraft went missing. NBC 7’s Audra Stafford has the latest on the search efforts. 

No other information was available.

Please refresh this page for updates on this story. Details may change as more information becomes available.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.