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Rescue crews searching for helicopter with 5 Marines missing en route from Las Vegas area to San Diego

CNN — Rescue crews are searching a remote, snow-covered area of Southern California after a military helicopter with five Marines onboard was “reported overdue” en route from a base near Las Vegas to one in San Diego, according to the US Marine Corps and Cal Fire.

“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,” Capt. Stephanie Leguizamon with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing said.

“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 Marines are assigned to Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, according to Leguizamon. The CH-53E is a heavy-lift helicopter that is used to move troops and equipment and can carry as much as 16 tons of cargo, according to the US Navy.

Winds were gusting up to 20 mph Tuesday evening near Pine Valley, California – the nearest weather observation site, some 40 miles east of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Winds were likely stronger at higher elevations.

Radar indicates a heavy band of precipitation swept through the area between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., with rain at lower elevations and snow at higher elevations.

Among those searching for the lost helicopter are California firefighters, Cal Fire San Diego spokesperson Mike Cornette told CNN.

The agency deployed three fire engines and an ambulance after getting its first report about the aircraft at 2:20 a.m., Cornette said, noting the last ping from it was recorded at 11:20 p.m. Tuesday.

Responders searched in Lake Morena, near a trailhead in the Cleveland National Forest but were hampered by “heavy snow and winter conditions,” forcing them to pull back, he said.

“Now that we’re getting daylight, we’re going to reengage,” Cornette told CNN.

A CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter taxies in 2023 at Inyokern Airfield, California.
A CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter taxies in 2023 at Inyokern Airfield, California. (Lance Cpl. Jennifer Sanchez/US Marine Corps/File)

Super Stallion helicopters have been involved in several wrecks over the past decade, at least two of them fatal.

In 2016, 12 Marines were killed when two CH-53E helicopters collided during a night training exercise off Hawaii — a crash military investigators attributed to pilot error. Two years later, four crew members were killed when a Super Stallion crashed during a training mission near El Centro, California.

The outcome of another incident was considered a “miracle at sea:” 25 Marines and Navy sailors survived when a CH-53E crashed in 2014 as it tried to land on an amphibious transport dock at sea.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly named an area responders first searched. It was Lake Morena.

CNN Meteorologist Monica Garrett contributed to this report.

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