Five United States Marines who went missing aboard a helicopter lost amid a devastating storm over California have been confirmed dead after their bodies were found early Thursday morning.
Fox News reports that first responders located the wreckage of the CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter on Wednesday but did not locate the deceased soldiers until Thursday, suggesting the flooding, mudslides, and tornado alerts separated them from their aircraft during impact.
“It is with a heavy heart and profound sadness that I share the loss of five outstanding Marines from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and the “Flying Tigers” while conducting a training flight last night,” Maj. Gen. Borgschulte, Commanding General for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, said in a statement.
“These pilots and crew members were serving a calling greater than self and were proud to do so. We will forever be grateful for their call to duty and selfless service,” he added. “To the families of our fallen Marines, we send our deepest condolences and commit to ensuring your support and care during this incredibly difficult time.”
Update: The five 3rd MAW Marines have been confirmed deceased.
“To the families of our fallen Marines, we send our deepest condolences and commit to ensuring your support and care during this incredibly difficult time.” -Maj. Gen. Borgschulte, 3rd MAW Commanding General pic.twitter.com/CBLs2jDKWG
— 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (@3rdmaw) February 8, 2024
The U.S. military will now spend the next 24 hours contacting next of kin with the grim news before publicizing the names and ranks of the five Marines who perished.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden has been briefed and offered his condolences to the victims’ families upon learning of the loss of life.
“Jill and I are heartbroken at the loss of five U.S. Marines, whose aircraft crashed while flying from Nevada to California during a routine training mission. As the Department of Defense continues to assess what occurred, we extend our deepest condolences to their families, their squadron, and the U.S. Marine Corps as we grieve the loss of five of our nation’s finest warriors,” Biden said in a statement.
“I am deeply grateful to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary-Civil Air Patrol, and other federal, state, and local agencies for their professionalism and dedication in supporting search and recovery efforts. Our service members represent the very best of our nation, and these five Marines were no exception. Today, as we mourn this profound loss, we honor their selfless service and ultimate sacrifice—and reaffirm the sacred obligation we bear to all those who wear the uniform and their families,” he continued.
The CH-53E Super Stallion, a heavy-lift helicopter designed for minesweeping and countermeasure missions, was transporting the five Marines from the Creech Air Force Base in Nevada to the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar near San Diego Tuesday before being blown off course.
First responders and the San Diego Sheriff’s Office were immediately dispatched to search for the crew but were stymied by an “atmospheric river” storm that complicated search-and-rescue efforts.
Other aviation tragedies have struck the military in recent months. In December a V-22 Osprey military aircraft crashed off the coast of Japan, killing all eight on board. A similar aircraft fell out of the sky in August, killing 20 Marines and severely injuring 20 others.