A Marine Corps helicopter carrying five troops went down in the mountains outside San Diego, as a historic storm brought heavy snow and record rain to California. The CH-53E Super Stallion, designed to fly in harsh conditions, was reported missing as rescuers on the ground and by air located the aircraft near Pine Valley, a 45-mile drive from San Diego. However, snowy conditions made it challenging to gain access to the crash site. The fate of those aboard the helicopter was not immediately known, but additional resources were brought in due to heavy snowfall in the sparsely populated mountains.
The Marines were flying from Creech Air Force Base, northwest of Las Vegas, back to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego after unit-level training. Weather data from the region is limited, but reports indicated light rain and wind on the night of the crash, followed by heavy snowfall. The National Weather Service called for 6 to 10 inches of snow in the mountains above 5,000 feet and gusty winds. The missing Marines were assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, and President Joe Biden was briefed on the situation as efforts to reach the crash site continued.
In 2018, four Marines died in a crash in the same area, raising concerns about the safety of the CH-53E Super Stallion. The helicopter, nicknamed the “hurricane maker,” has a history of being able to move troops and equipment over rugged terrain in bad weather conditions. It has been utilized in rescue missions in countries such as Somalia and Iraq. As the search efforts continued, officials from various agencies including the military, Forest Service, Border Patrol, sheriff’s department, and Civil Air Patrol coordinated to locate the missing aircraft and its occupants.