(Adds details throughout)
By Tim Gaynor
PHOENIX Feb 23 Two U.S. military
helicopters collided during a training exercise over the desert
along the Arizona-California border, killing all seven Marines
aboard, the Marine Corps said on Thursday.
The two aircraft, an AH-1W Cobra and a UH-1Y Huey, both
attached to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, were conducting
nighttime training operations when the accident occurred about 8
p.m. local time on Wednesday.
The five Marines aboard the Huey and the two
aboard the smaller Cobra attack copter perished in the crash,
said First Lieutenant Maureen Dooley, a spokeswoman for the 3rd
Marine Wing, based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in
She said no other aircraft were flying with the two stricken
copters, which collided over the Chocolate Mountain Aerial
Gunnery Range in the southeastern California desert just west of
the Arizona border. No one on the ground was involved in the
accident, Dooley added.
The two helicopters, although part of Miramar's 3rd Marine
Wing, were both based at nearby Camp Pendleton, and six of the
Marines killed were from Pendleton. The seventh was from Marine
Corps Air Station Yuma, close to the crash site.
Television images showed a scorched debris field in the
desert where the helicopters fell.
"Our airfield operations folks were contacted immediately
and we began dispatching Marines to the scene to actually find
out what's going on," Marine Gunnery Sergeant Dustin Dunk said.
The Marines said the incident was under investigation and
declined to say if initial information suggested what caused the
Dooley said weather and other environmental
conditions did not appear to be factors in the crash, but she
said she was unable to comment on whether the flight crews were
using night-vision equipment at the time of the collision.
U.S. Senator John McCain of Arizona, one of several
politicians expressing their condolences, issued a statement
lamenting the deaths and saying they were a reminder of the
sacrifices of the U.S. military after a decade of war.
Marine Corps Air Station Yuma lies in desert 2 miles (3 km)
west of Yuma, and the rugged terrain around the installation has
made it an important training ground for Marines deploying to
More than a dozen military personnel have been
killed in recent years from accidents involving the same types
of helicopters that crashed on Wednesday night, most of them
based in the San Diego area.
(Additional reporting by Steve Gorman, Phil Stewart and Dan
Whitcomb; Editing by Peter Cooney)