Thursday, February 23, 2012

Midair helicopter collision kills 7 Marines

(CNN) -- Seven U.S. Marines were killed in the midair collision of two U.S. military helicopters along the Arizona-California border, officials said Thursday.

The crash occurred during routine training operations Wednesday night, the Marine Corps said in a statement.

The collision, which occurred near the Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, involved an AH-1W "Super Cobra" attack helicopter and a UH-1Y "Huey" utility chopper.

The aircraft were part of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and based in Camp Pendleton in California.

Six of the Marines killed in the crash were from Camp Pendleton, and one was from Yuma, the Marine Corps said.

Authorities were investigating the collision.

"We won't know exactly what happened until the investigation is complete, and we can't make any assumptions right now," said 1st Lt. Maureen Dooley, a Marine Corps spokeswoman.

"We have aircraft going out to Yuma training ranges on a weekly basis, and they go out there primarily because the aircraft mimics what they will see in Afghanistan," Dooley said.

Authorities did not plan to release the names of the Marines involved until their families were notified.

The exact location of the crash was unclear. Military officials earlier said it occurred at a Yuma training range, but later said the helicopters collided just outside the complex.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said in a statement that the collision occurred in California's Chocolate Mountains.

"This tragedy serves as another stark and sad reminder of the peril our men and women in uniform encounter on a daily basis -- not only abroad, but on our own soil. It also reminds us that, whether in combat or training, no military mission is ever routine," Brewer said. "We must never take for granted nor forget these soldiers' sacrifice and service to the United States of America."

Marine Corps Air Station Yuma is home to about 4,000 active duty Marines and sailors. It supports 80% of the Marine Corps air-to-ground aviation training and covers five square miles in southeastern Yuma.

The military has long used the AH-1W and UH-1 Huey for a variety of tasks. The military describes the AH-1W as "the backbone of the United States Marine Corps' attack helicopter fleet." The UH-1Y is a twin-engine, medium-size helicopter, according to the military.

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