PINE VALLEY, Calif. (KGTV) — The Marine Corps said the helicopter it was searching for Wednesday morning has been located in Pine Valley, and the search for the crew is underway.
The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing said on X that civil authorities located the aircraft at 9:08 a.m. Ground and aviation assets from the Wing Operation Command Center are actively looking for the five missing Marines. The San Diego County Sheriff's Department and several federal, state and local agencies are assisting the search.
See attached for updates on missing 3rd MAW Marines.— 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (@3rdmaw) February 7, 2024
Search and rescue operations are underway. pic.twitter.com/IVpkuGNqvV
The search for the missing CH-53E Super Stallion in the East County area started around 1 a.m. Wednesday. That's when the Marine Corps asked the sheriff's department for help finding the aircraft.
Cal Fire also received a call from the Marine Corps asking for assistance. They responded to the area of the aircraft’s last known location in the Cleveland National Forest, where weather conditions are cold and snowy.
The missing Marines were conducting a routine training flight.
Marine officials released this statement earlier Wednesday:
“The U.S. Marine Corps is searching for five U.S. Marines assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. The Marines were flying a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter from Creech Air Force Base to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar on Feb. 6, 2024, when the aircraft was reported overdue. The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing is coordinating search and rescue efforts with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department and the Civil Air Patrol. The most up-to-date information will be released as it becomes available.”
The sheriff's department also has ground crews helping with the search; the agency also deployed one of its helicopters, but they were unable to reach the area because of the weather conditions.
Cal Fire officials said they deployed search-and-rescue crews just after 7:30 a.m., with the intent to start searching in the area where the last signal from the aircraft was received. Crews would then move further out from that point.
In addition to Cal Fire crews, the following agencies are helping with the search:
- U.S. Forest Service
- U.S. Border Patrol (also provided drones)
- Sheriff’s search and rescue
- Civil Air Patrol
Pine Valley residents ABC 10News spoke to said they didn't hear a crash.
"It's sad and concerning. I pray for all of them. I wish them the best," said Randy Fiches.
He said the weather likely the biggest obstacle in this search.
"It was coming down pretty good when I got up at 5 o'clock this morning with very low visibility comeing down from the general store area in laguna. I would estimate between 10-12 inches on the ground," he explained.