The Marine Corps in a statement said that they were “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 Marines were flying a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter from Creech Air Force Base, northwest of Las Vegas, where they had been conducting training. They were returning to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego when the helicopter went missing. The exact departure and expected arrival times are currently unknown.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in a statement said that, President Joe Biden has been briefed on the situation, and the National Security Council is closely monitoring the search and rescue operation.
The five Marines on board belonged to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Miramar, the Marine Corps said in a statement. The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department was alerted when the aircraft did not arrive at its destination and was last seen in the Pine Valley area, which is located about 35 miles (56 kilometers) east of downtown San Diego.
Search and rescue efforts are being coordinated between the military, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, and the Civil Air Patrol. However, heavy snowfall in the mountains is making access to the area difficult. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, also known as Cal Fire, has requested additional resources and is working in collaboration with various agencies to locate the missing aircrew.
The Cleveland National Forest, where the helicopter was found, spans over 720 square miles (1,860 square kilometers) and has challenging terrain with limited trails. The National Weather Service has predicted 6 to 10 inches (15 to 25 centimeters) of snow above 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) along with gusty winds.