2 Marines Killed In Military Helicopter Crash Identified

Two Marine pilots died when a Super Cobra attack helicopter carrying live ordnance crashed while on a training flight over the eastern San Diego County highlands, authorities reported Wednesday.

The aircraft from the Miramar-based 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing went down for unknown reasons near Kitchen Creek Road and Interstate 8 in the Boulder Oaks area of Cleveland National Forest about 11:55 p.m. Tuesday, sparking a roughly 1-acre brush fire, military officials said.

Because the AH-1W helicopter was carrying live ordnance, a wide perimeter was set up around the crash site, preventing firefighters from getting near the wreckage for hours, according to Cal Fire.

The pilots were identified Thursday as Capt. Jessica Conkling, 27, of Centre, Pa., and 1st Lt. Aaron Cox, 26, of Pulaski, Ark. They were assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166, officials said.

At the time of the accident, the pilots were training for an upcoming deployment, according to Maj. Jay Delarosa, a spokesman for Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

Conkling joined the Marines in December 2004 and achieved the rank of captain on Jan. 1 of this year. Her military decorations include a Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and National Defense Service Medal.

Cox enlisted in May 2005 and was promoted to first lieutenant two years later. His decorations include a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and a National Defense Service Medal.

"These were Marines who were at the top of their game and were preparing for deployment overseas," Delarosa said. "It's a horrible loss."

The helicopter had taken off from an El Centro airfield about a half-hour before the crash, officials said.

In a prepared statement, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger offered condolences to the pilots' bereaved loved ones and colleagues.

"Today we are tragically reminded of the profound sacrifices members of our armed forces make to keep us safe," the governor said. "We are forever grateful to the service of those who were fatally injured, and, on behalf of all Californians, Maria and I send our thoughts and prayers to their families and friends."