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7 Marines killed in midair crash of two helicopters

The Camp Pendleton-based aircraft collide during a nighttime training mission in a remote part of Imperial County. The accident is called 'a grave reminder' of troops' sacrifices.

February 24, 2012|By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from San Diego — Seven Marines were killed in a midair collision of two attack helicopters in a remote part of Imperial County, the Marine Corps said Thursday.

The collision between an AH-1W Super Cobra and a UH-1Y Super Huey occurred about 8 p.m. Wednesday during a routine training mission called Scorpion Fire. The training, part of preparations for deployment, was within an hour of suspending for the night.

Six of the seven victims were from Camp Pendleton and the other was from the Marine base in Yuma, Ariz. The two aircraft were from Camp Pendleton.

The helicopters collided about 65 miles northwest of Yuma in the Chocolate Mountains, a few miles from the Yuma Training Range complex, on the California side of the state's border with Arizona.

The desert areas of California and Arizona are routinely used for training, in part because the region mirrors the rough, irregular terrain and the hot, dusty weather that helicopter crews will encounter in Afghanistan.

Attack helicopter crews train in firing weapons and working in tandem, often at low altitudes. Refueling training is also done on the ground.

"We're always training to deploy," said 1st Lt. Maureen Dooley, a spokeswoman for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing based at the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego.

The names of the dead and the name of their squadron will not be released until families are notified, which is standard Marine policy for combat or training deaths. An investigation into the crash could take months, Dooley said.

The Cobra is the backbone of the Marine attack helicopter fleet, with a crew of two: a pilot and a co-pilot/gunner. It carries a Gatling-style cannon and several varieties of rockets and missiles.

The Huey is a twin-engine, medium-size utility helicopter, with a crew of one or two pilots, a crew chief and others as the mission requires. It carries machine guns and rockets, among other armaments.

Two of those killed were aboard the Cobra, the others on the Huey.

In September, a twin-engine, two-seat Cobra helicopter went down during training in a remote area of Camp Pendleton, killing two Marine pilots and igniting a brush fire that burned about 120 acres.

In August, two Marines ejected from their F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet as it plunged toward the Pacific Ocean. The two Marines spent four hours in the dark, chilly ocean before they were rescued. Both suffered broken bones but survived.

In July, a Marine was killed during a training exercise when his UH-1Y helicopter went down at Camp Pendleton.

The Wednesday night collision is "a grave reminder of the sacrifices that the men and women of the armed forces make to keep us safe," U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Thursday.

Those sacrifices, he said, occur both in combat abroad and in training.

"My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of these brave Marines," said U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). "We honor their service and all they have done for our country."

tony.perry@latimes.com

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