October 30, 2009 – Searchers have found nothing but a debris field where two military aircraft collided off the coast of San Diego Thursday night.
Nine Coast Guard and Marine Corps personnel are missing after the mid-air collision between a Coast Guard transport plane and a USMC light attack helicopter about 15 miles east of San Clemente Island, authorities said.
“The search is still on, but it’s likely taken the lives of nine individuals,” said Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman, calling the collision a “tragic event.”
The Coast Guard, Navy and Marine Corps are involved in the search, with Coast Guard assets including two MH-60J Jayhawk helicopters, the Cutters Edisto and Petrel, from San Diego, and the Cutter Blackfin from Santa Barbara, Calif.
The Coast Guard aircraft from Air Station Sacramento was engaged in a search and rescue mission and the Marine helicopter from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing stationed at the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton was conducting a routine training mission at the time of the crash. The Navy reported to the Coast Guard that they observed what appeared to be a midair collision, according to the Coast Guard.
The collision was reported around 7:10 p.m. Thursday, according to USCG Petty Officer Henry Dunphy.
“We are always hopeful … the assumption is always that they are alive,” said USCG Capt. Thomas Farris, noting that a person could survive in the water for 19-20 hours and possibly longer, depending on body type and clothing.
The maritime agency sent three of its cutters and an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter to the area to search for survivors, while the Navy sent four vessels and multiple helicopters.
Seven people were believed to be aboard the Coast Guard C-130, and two were in the AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter.
The water temperature overnight was around 64 degrees, according to National Weather Service forecaster Brandt Maxwell. The sky above the crash sight was clear and calm, he said.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known.
The missing Coast Guard plane and its crew are from Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento, said USCG Petty Officer 2nd Class Jetta Disco.
Crews from the Sacramento Coast Guard station fly search-and-rescue, law enforcement and logistics missions. According to Farris, the crew involved in the crash was searching for a mission person, who remains missing.
The missing Marine Corps aircraft is an AH-1W Cobra light attack helicopter, said U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Michael Stevens at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
The Cobra and its crew are part of Marine Aircraft Group 39, based at Camp Pendleton, and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, which is headquartered at Miramar, Stevens said.
The Cobra crew was on a training mission when the accident occurred, Stevens said.