A Marine Corps helicopter that had gone missing with five troops aboard during a historic storm in California was discovered Wednesday morning in a mountainous area outside San Diego. The aircraft was located near the mountain community of Pine Valley, but snowy conditions made access challenging. The military was coordinating search and rescue efforts with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the Civil Air Patrol, as well as other federal, state, and local agencies.
The missing Marines were assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Miramar, and were flying a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter from Creech Air Force Base. The Marines had been doing unit-level training in Las Vegas and were returning home to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. The aircraft had been reported overdue for arrival at Miramar and was last seen in the area of Pine Valley, creating concern for the safety of the troops on board. The military and various agencies, including the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the Civil Air Patrol, were making efforts to access the area and locate the aircrew amidst heavy snowfall.
The CH-53E Super Stallion is the largest and heaviest helicopter in the military, known for its ability to move troops and equipment over rugged terrain in bad weather, including at night. As search and rescue operations continued, President Joe Biden and National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby were briefed on the situation, highlighting the level of concern and urgency surrounding the missing Marines.