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2 Marine Aviators Die in Copter Crash Near Fallbrook


FALLBROOK — Two Marine aviators--one a squadron commander--were killed Wednesday when their Cobra attack helicopter crashed in rough terrain at the Naval Weapons Station near here during a nighttime training mission.

The AH-1 Cobra helicopter, a heavily armed, jet-powered aircraft designed to fly low and destroy enemy tanks and troop positions, crashed about 12:40 a.m. in the weapons facility adjacent to Camp Pendleton, said Marine Corps spokesman Gunnery Sgt. Dave Marriott.

The victims were Squadron Commander Lt. Colonel David A. Knott, 40, of David City, Neb. and Capt. Michael M. Vagedes, 27, of Centerville, Ohio. The crew and helicopter were assigned to the Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squad 267 and based at Camp Pendleton as part of the Marine Aircraft Group 39, Marriott said.

"I can't say whether they were just flying . . . on the way back to Camp Pendleton or what, I don't know," Marriott said.

Military officials declined to speculate on the cause of the crash, saying it is under investigation. They also declined to say if there were any radio transmissions immediately before the crash.

"It crashed in the northern part of Fallbrook," said Chief Petty Officer Martin Wicklund, spokesman for the 32nd Street Naval Station in San Diego. "The terrain there is very hilly with a lot of ravines in the area and the helicopter actually came down on a small bluff."

Fire units from Camp Pendleton put out a small blaze that erupted from the crash, but no structures were threatened and no one on the ground was injured, Marriott said.

The weapons station assembles, repairs and tests both ground and air weapons for the Marine Corps, but primarily "it's a weapons storage facility," Wicklund said.

The fatal crash was the second by a Camp Pendleton-based helicopter in the last year. On July 27, two Marines were killed and three injured when their UH-1N Huey aircraft crashed in the Chocolate Mountains of Imperial County, also during a routine training mission.

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