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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Copter Crash Deals Another Blow to San Diego Marines

January 21, 2002|TONY PERRY and VALERIE REITMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SAN DIEGO — The Marine Corps helicopter crash in Afghanistan on Sunday that killed two crew members and injured five others involved troops from the same San Diego base that lost seven Marines in a plane crash in the war zone just 11 days earlier.

Defense Department officials said the early-morning crash was apparently the result of mechanical problems with the CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter. The crew was from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.

An emotionally wrenching memorial service was held at the base Thursday for seven Marines killed Jan. 9 when their KC-130 Hercules transport and refueling plane slammed into a mountain in Pakistan while attempting a night landing.

"It's like somebody stepping on your heart," Miramar spokesman Maj. T.V. Johnson said of the latest crash. "We were just beginning to get over the loss of seven Marines and now this. . . . Every Marine realizes: 'It could as easily been me.' "

The Super Stallion was on a routine resupply mission when it made a "hard landing" in mountains about 40 miles from the Bagram air base north of Kabul, the Afghan capital, officials said. The crash occurred in daylight about 30 minutes after takeoff.

Killed were Staff Sgt. Walter F. Cohee, 26, of Wicomico County, Md., a communications navigation technician, and Sgt. Dwight J. Morgan, 24, of Willits in Mendocino County, Calif., a helicopter mechanic.

Cohee's mother, Jeanne, said he was eager to go to Afghanistan despite the dangers. "He told me: 'I hate to tell you this, but if they ask for volunteers, I'm going. I signed up to help my country, and that's what I'm going to do,' " she said.

Morgan's former high school principal remembered him as a quiet, likable youth who excelled in mechanics classes and decided early in his senior year that he wanted to be a Marine.

"His mother was real proud of Dwight and his accomplishments and the success he was having in the Marines," said Keller McDonald, who was principal of Willits High School when Morgan graduated in 1995. "Certainly it's a shock to this community and his family."

Morgan was due to be promoted soon to staff sergeant, and that promotion will be made posthumously, officials said. Morgan's wife, Teresa, is expecting their second child, friends said. The couple also have a 4-year-old son.

Morgan's mother, Mary Trimmer, drove to San Diego from Huntington Beach to be with Teresa.

Don Willett, a family friend, said Morgan loved the order and discipline of the Marine Corps and especially loved working on helicopters.

"He knew exactly what he wanted to do," Willett said. "He had his whole life planned."

Injured were Cpl. David Lynne, 23, of Mecklenburg County, N.C., the helicopter crew chief; Cpl. Ivan Montanez, 22, of Hayes County, Texas, a mechanic; Cpl. Stephen A. Sullivan, 24, of Pickens County, S.C., a crew chief; Capt. William J. Cody, 30, of Middlesex County, N.J., a pilot; and Capt. Douglas V. Glasgow, 33, of Wayne County, Ohio, a pilot.

The two crashes involving Miramar aircraft and troops make January the deadliest month to date for U.S. military personnel in the war on terrorism.

"Your heart just breaks every time something like this happens," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters in Washington.

The five injured Marines were flown to a U.S. medical facility in the region, officials said. Their injuries are considered moderate and not life-threatening.

Although the Marine Corps has sent thousands of infantry troops from Camp Pendleton and Camp Lejeune, N.C., to Afghanistan, those troops have suffered no fatalities. The Marines who have died were all on supply missions; the KC-130 was taking fuel to forward locations. The cause of the plane's crash, however, has not been determined.

Six of the Marines involved in the Super Stallion crash were assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, the Flying Tigers, at Miramar. Glasgow is stationed at the Marine air station in Yuma, Ariz., but was assigned to fly with the Miramar squadron, officials said.

In keeping with a policy of not releasing information about ongoing operations, the military did not specify what type of supply mission the helicopter was conducting. But it is known that U.S. Special Forces are in the nearby mountains searching for Osama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders.

Names of the dead and injured were withheld until officials could break the news to family members. "My kitchen window faces the driveway, and when I looked out and there were three Marines . . . I knew they were not coming to give me good news," Cohee said.

Cohee said her son planned a career in the Marines: "The Marines, to him, were the best." He had been scheduled to return to San Diego earlier this month, but a heavy workload kept him in Afghanistan, she said.

The accident was the third fatal crash of U.S. aircraft in the Afghan campaign.

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