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Search Ends for Marine Missing in Helicopter Crash

November 24, 1987|GEORGE FRANK and BILLIE SUTHERLAND | Times Staff Writers

The Navy called off the search Monday for a Marine who was thrown into the ocean after his military helicopter lost power and slammed into an amphibious assault ship 20 miles off the coast near Camp Pendleton.

Twenty-two other Marines and three sailors were slightly injured in the Sunday evening accident. It took place during the final operation of a major Marine and Navy military exercise that began nearly two weeks ago.

The search by ships and helicopters for the missing Marine, identified late Monday as Lance Cpl. Mark A. Marquez, was discontinued around 1 p.m. on orders of Capt. Rod A. Knutson, commander of the amphibious task force involved in the exercises.

"There just wasn't any sign of him," said Navy Cmdr. David Dillon in San Diego.

Marquez was a 19-year-old member of a ground combat element of the 11th Marine Amphibious Unit based at Camp Pendleton. He is survived by his mother, Grace Fitting , of Milwaukee, Wis.

"The aircraft crashed on board the USS Peleliu while attempting to make a precautionary landing," said Maj. Tom Mitchell at Camp Pendleton. "The skill of the pilots in making the landing was magnificent and averted what could have been an even greater tragedy."

The CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter--part of the Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 164 based at Tustin Marine Corps Air Station--apparently experienced a loss of power shortly after it lifted off the deck of the ship and in an attempt to return "impaled itself" on a "sponson," a piece of the ship that projects out from the side, according to Dillon.

20 Aboard Helicopter

There were 20 Marines on the copter: 16 troops and a crew of four. The other injuries occurred to men aboard the ship.

Most of those on the helicopter were able to get onto the ship, but six Marines were thrown into the ocean. Five of them were quickly rescued by other helicopters. Rescue helicopters and three ships, including the Peleliu, continued to search through the night for Marquez.

Those injured in the 6:15 p.m. accident were treated aboard the Peleliu, an 820-foot vessel based in Long Beach. It was taking part in a joint military exercise called Kernel Usher 88-1.

The exercise began on Nov. 10 and involved more than 4,000 sailors and Marines, nine ships and all types of Marine helicopters and fixed wing fighter and transport aircraft.

The CH-46E helicopter, which is used to transport troops, supplies and small vehicles, was part of an assault being staged by the 11th Marine Amphibious Unit, which is under the command of the 5th Marine Amphibious Brigade.

The 11th Marine Amphibious Unit is one of three such contingency forces in the western Pacific. The Marine and Navy unit includes ground forces as well as CH-46, Bell Cobras and UH-1 helicopters for ship-to-shore raids.

As part of the amphibious exercise, the 11th Marine Amphibious Unit Friday night conducted a mock assault raid on the airstrip at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms.

The aging CH-46s have often been referred to as the "Marines' workhorse." Some military observers say the CH-46s will most likely be replaced in the coming decade by Bell/Boeing Vertol V-22 Ospreys, which are part helicopter and part fixed-wing aircraft.

Earlier this year two Sea Knights based at Tustin and El Toro crashed, killing seven Marines and Marine reservists. Both accidents took place in hazy and foggy conditions.

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