Rescuers Searching for 5 Marines After Missing Helicopter Found

The Marines were flying from Nevada to California.
Rescuers Searching for 5 Marines After Missing Helicopter Found
A CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter taxies at Inyokern Airfield, Calif., in 2023. (Lance Cpl. Jennifer Sanchez/US Marine Corps)
Zachary Stieber
Update: the five Marines were found dead, officials said on Feb. 8. Read full story here. 
Earlier story below.

Rescuers are searching for five U.S. Marines after a missing helicopter on which they were flying was located on Feb. 7, but snowy conditions were impairing the search.

The helicopter was found by searchers in Pine Valley, California, at 9:08 a.m. PT, according to a spokesperson for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. Pine Valley is about 45 miles from San Diego.

The Marines have still not been located.

“The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing is managing search and rescue efforts through the Wing Operations Command Center and using ground and aviation assets to locate the aircrew in coordination with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and multiple federal, state and local agencies,” the spokesperson said in an email to The Epoch Times.

The helicopter was last seen near the Cleveland National Forest. Snow fell Wednesday in the sparsely populated mountains.

The snow was making it hard to access the area, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire), which was assisting with the search, said in a statement.

“We experienced some rugged terrain,” Cal Fire spokesperson Mike Cornette told KUSI-TV. “We experienced snow, muddy conditions. We got out on foot and tried to search the area as best as we could this morning, and we weren’t able to find anything.”

The Marines departed on a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter from Creech Air Force Base in Clark County, Nevada, and were supposed to land at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California on Feb. 6, a Marines spokesman said.

When the aircraft was reported as overdue, search and rescue efforts started.

The San Diego Sheriff’s Department said it received a call about the missing helicopter around 1 a.m. on Feb. 7 and that search operations began conducting operations within two hours.

“The current weather conditions are a mixture of snow and rain, the sheriff’s department is currently using 4x4 Jeeps to search the area due to the difficult and muddy terrain,” a spokesman told The Epoch Times via email.

The department “has a crew on standby ready to launch if weather conditions change and allow for safer flying conditions,” he added. “We will continue joint operations in our steadfast attempts to locate the crew.”

The U.S. Border Patrol and the U.S. Forest Service were also assisting with the search.

The Cleveland National Forest covers 720 square miles and many parts of its steep, rocky mountains have limited trails.

The National Weather Service in San Diego called for 6 to 10 inches of snow in the mountains above 5,000 feet and gusty winds late Wednesday.

President Joe Biden was briefed on the missing Marines, said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who answered questions as the president flew to New York City for campaign fundraisers.

“We’re watching this closely and again our thoughts are for the best,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said.

About 99 feet long, the CH-53E Super Stallion can move troops and equipment over rugged terrain in bad weather, including at night, according to the Marine Corps website. It is also nicknamed the “hurricane maker” because of the amount of downwash generated from its three engines.

Two CH-53E helicopters were used in the civil war-torn capital of Mogadishu, Somalia, in January 1990 to rescue American and foreign allies from the U.S. embassy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This is a developing story that will be updated.