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Snowy California mountains Marine helicopter rescue challenge

Rescuers are battling heavy snow to reach a Marine Corps helicopter that crashed in California. The fate of those aboard is unknown.

A Marine Corps helicopter carrying five troops went down in the mountains outside San Diego. The CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter, the largest helicopter in the military, had gone missing as an historic storm dumped heavy snow and record rain over California. Civilian authorities located the aircraft near the mountain community of Pine Valley, but snowy conditions were making it challenging to gain access on the ground. The Marines were flying from Creech Air Force Base, northwest of Las Vegas, where they had been doing unit-level training and were returning home to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego. Waves of heavy downpours hit the area throughout the night and heavy snow fell in the mountains in Southern California. The last known contact with the helicopter was at about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. Cal Fire officials said the military helicopter was reported missing in an area north of Interstate 8 and Kitchen Creek Road, located southeast of Pine Valley. The area includes San Diego County's second highest mountain, Cuyamaca Peak, at 6,512 feet, and is also near the Cleveland National Forest. The five U.S. Marines were assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. Additional resources were brought in because of the heavy snowfall Wednesday in the sparsely populated mountains. 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. In 2018, four Marines died when their CH-53E Super Stallion crashed in the same general area during a training mission. The Marine Corps ruled out pilot error for the accident near El Centro. The victims' families later sued two companies they alleged provided a defective part that they blamed for the crash. The CH-53E Super Stallion can move troops and equipment over rugged terrain in bad weather, including at night. 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. A Super Stallion also went down in a sandstorm in Iraq in 2005, killing 31 people on board.

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