Marine veteran turned pilot weighs in on deadly chopper crash in San Diego County

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

There are many unanswered questions about the military helicopter that crashed in San Diego County this week, killing the five U.S. Marine Corps servicemen on board.

They have been identified as:

Lance Cpl. Donovan Davis, 21, of Olathe, Kansas, a CH-53E helicopter crew chief.

Sgt. Alec Langen, 23, of Chandler, Arizona, a CH-53E helicopter crew chief.

Capt. Benjamin Moulton, 27, of Emmett, Idaho, a CH-53E helicopter pilot.

Capt. Jack Casey, 26, of Dover, New Hampshire, a CH-53E helicopter pilot.

Capt. Miguel Nava, 28, of Traverse City, Michigan, a CH-53E helicopter pilot.

All were assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and were based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

The 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.

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.

Marine veteran, private pilot and attorney (all in one) weighs in

Timothy Loranger is a Marine who served for five years, primarily as an aircraft mechanic, and is now a private pilot and attorney. He has dedicated the last decade of his life to understanding why planes and helicopters crash, and representing military families when they do. 

NBC 7 spoke with Loranger about the deadly CH-53E crash. While he does not know what exactly happened, he shared some general insight based on his experience when it comes to what to expect in the coming months as it is under investigation. 

“It’s important for those who are making the decision to fly a particular mission to study the weather and decide whether the risks that they’re going to take are necessary and worth it,” he said, “considering what this flight was.”

Loranger explained that the day the Marines were flying through San Diego County was wet, windy and even snowing near the crash site. Since this was described as a “training flight,” and seemingly not of urgent nature, he added that the weather will likely play a large part in the investigation.

“This is a training mission. It’s assumed that it wasn’t critical that they got back to Miramar that evening,” Loranger said. “Weather is going to be a front and center, very important question. Should the aircraft have been flying in these conditions?”

However, Loranger made a point that the weather alone should not have caused the Super Stallion to crash.

“These aircraft, the CH-53, and this is the echo model, are designed to operate in extreme environments,” Loranger said. “In weather conditions that other pilots might decide is too intense for them, but there are limitations on all aircraft and weather can be very unforgiving.”

But, when it comes to getting answers on what went tragically wrong, the military process can be a lengthy one.

“Based on my experience, it will take at least a year for them to release the findings of their investigation and it could take longer, depending on the circumstances,” Loranger said.

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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.