Seven Marines Killed in Helicopter Collision
The New York Times
By IAN LOVETT
February 23, 2012
LOS ANGELES —
Seven Marines were killed Wednesday night when two helicopters collided during training exercises in the desert along the California-Arizona border, the Marine Corps said on Thursday.
Lt. Maureen Dooley, with Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, said an AH-1W Cobra and a UH-1Y Huey crashed around 8 p.m. Wednesday during routine training operations near the Yuma Training Range Complex. There were no survivors.
Six of the Marines, serving with the Third Marine Aircraft Wing, had been stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton near San Diego, while the seventh victim was stationed at the Yuma Training Range. Their names will not be released until the Marine Corps has notified next of kin, Lieutenant Dooley said.
An investigation into the cause of the crash was under way, but Lieutenant Dooley described the weather Wednesday night as “pretty mild.”
“Until the investigation is done, we won’t know exactly what caused the incident,” she said.
Though the exact location of the crash has not been determined, Marine officials believe the helicopters went down just on the California side of the state line, near the Chocolate Mountains. The area is a favorite training ground for the military because the dusty, mountainous terrain mimics conditions in parts of Afghanistan, while the clear weather allows for flying at almost all times.
Mark Bobbi, a senior military aircraft analyst for the consulting firm IHS Jane’s, said there was no evidence of systematic problems with either helicopter. But he said that for the past couple of years, more Marine helicopters had crashed in domestic training missions than in combat missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. One reason is that many of those training exercises are conducted under combatlike conditions: at night, in the desert, with multiple helicopters flying very low, very fast and very close together.
Mr. Bobbi said that in the night, desert wind conditions can be particularly unforgiving, particularly near mountains.
“You can get to foothills and winds will come down at you, and there can be wind shear that is strong enough to push a Cobra into the Huey,” he said. “The desert is a nasty place to train, but it is the best place to train if you are going to Afghanistan.”
Wednesday night’s crash is the latest in a string of helicopter training accidents involving Camp Pendleton troops, which have killed a total of 10 Marines over the past year.
In September, an AH-1W helicopter crash at Camp Pendleton killed two Marines and ignited a 120-acre fire at the base. Another Marine was killed and five more injured at Camp Pendleton in July, when a UH-1Y helicopter went down.
Cpl. Steven Posy, of Air Station Miramar, offered his condolences to family members of the victims but called Wednesday night’s crash an “isolated incident.”
James Dao contributed reporting from New York.