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Helicopter Crash Kills 1 Marine, Injures 5 : Military: Mishap near the Salton Sea is latest in series of fatal accidents involving the aircraft. More than 200 servicemen have been killed in similar Sikorsky-built copters since 1969.

May 20, 1990|TONY MARCANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Marine Corps CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter en route to its base at the Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin crashed in Imperial County on Saturday, killing one crew member and injuring five others, officials said.

The helicopter, on a training flight returning from Yuma, Ariz., went down about 2 p.m. in "an isolated, remote, uninhabited area" about 15 miles south of the Salton Sea after experiencing mechanical difficulties, said Master Sgt. Steven Merrill, a Marine Corps spokesman.

The victims were not immediately identified, pending notification of their families.

The injured crew members were taken to the Naval Air Facility near El Centro, about 90 miles southeast of San Diego. The extent of their injuries and their conditions were not available.

The nature of the mechanical troubles also was not immediately clear, Merrill said. The accident was under investigation Saturday night.

Merrill described the crew's mission as "strictly a routine training flight." The crew was based at the Tustin facility and attached to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, stationed in El Toro.

No other information on the crash was available Saturday night.

The crash was the 19th involving a Sea Stallion helicopter--a large, two-engine troop carrier--since 1980. More than 80 servicemen have been killed in CH-53D accidents since 1984.

Nineteen of those deaths occurred on March 20, 1989, when a Sea Stallion crashed and burned while on maneuvers off P'ohang, a town on the mountainous east coast of South Korea. Sixteen other Marines, including one on the ground, were injured in the crash.

The most recent incident in the region occurred on Feb. 21, when a Sea Stallion crash-landed in the Santa Ana Mountains when it experienced mechanical difficulties immediately after take off. The three crewman aboard were not seriously injured.

Like Saturday's accident, the mishaps in South Korea and in the Santa Ana mountains occurred under clear, sunny skies.

In another incident involving a Sea Stallion, seven Marines based at Tustin were killed in June, 1988, when their craft crashed into a hillside in southern Japan. However, that accident occurred during a heavy fog that enveloped the coast shortly after a typhoon struck the area.

In 1985, four Marines, also based at Tustin, were killed in another accident in Japan when their Sea Stallion slammed into an Okinawa hillside in clear weather.

The CH-53D, built by Sikorsky Aircraft Co. of Statford, Conn., and equipped to carry 37 soldiers, has been in use since the Vietnam War. An upgraded version, the CH-53E Super Stallion, was introduced in the early 1980s. That craft, which has double the lift capacity of a Sea Stallion, added a third engine and was touted as the most powerful military helicopter outside the Soviet Union, according to the reference book, "Jane's All the World's Aircraft."

The CH-53E Super Stallion, however, became embroiled in controversy after a series of crashes in the mid-1980s earned it the worst safety record of any helicopter flown by the Marines. Concerns over possible defects in the tail assemblies of the Super Stallion--reportedly a potential factor in several of the accidents--prompted a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee in 1986 to demand information from the Pentagon on efforts to fix the aircraft.

More than 200 servicemen have been killed in accidents involving the CH-53A, CH-53D and CH-53E since 1969. A majority of the killed Marines were based in Tustin.

Last Monday, the Navy grounded its fleet of CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters, including 261 used by the Marine Corps and 81 used by the Navy.

Helicopter Crash A Marine Corps CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter carrying six crew members crashed about 15 miles south of the Salton Sea in Imperial County Saturday afternoon, killing one member of the crew. Five others were injured and taken to the Naval Air Facility in El Centro. The helicopter was en route from Yuma, Ariz., to the Marine Corps Helicopter Air Station in Tustin when it went down in a remote area.

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