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6 San Diego-Based Marines Killed After Helicopters Collide

Six Camp Pendleton-based Marines and a seventh stationed in Arizona were killed when two helicopters collided during a nighttime training exercise on the outskirts of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, military officials announced today.

The AH-1W "Cobra" and UH-1 "Huey" aircraft went down about 8 p.m. Wednesday over a remote part of Yuma Training Range Complex, according to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar's public affairs office.

No one survived the midair crash, which happened in a section of the installation that extends into the far southeastern reaches of California, near the Chocolate Mountains. The casualties belonged to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, which is based at MCAS Miramar.

The military will conduct an "intensive investigation" into the cause of the disastrous crash over the next few months, said Lt. Maureen Dooley, a spokeswoman for the 3rd MAW.

The air wing trains in Yuma on a weekly basis, according to Dooley.

The identities of the deceased Marines were not released, pending family notification. Public release of the names was expected to be on hold until at least Friday afternoon, Dooley said.

The sole Yuma-based casualty was one of the two pilots of the helicopters, according to a Yuma-based Marine gunnery sergeant interviewed by KNX.

Among the public figures offering condolences over the deadly military aviation accident was Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

"My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of these brave Marines who died in this tragic accident," Boxer said in a statement. "We honor their service and all they have done for our country."

Over the last several years, accidents involving the same types of helicopters have claimed the lives of more than a dozen military personnel, most of them based in the San Diego area.

On Oct. 26, 2009, four Camp Pendleton-based Marines were killed when their Cobra and Huey helicopters collided over southern Afghanistan. Cpl. Gregory M.W. Fleury, 23, and Capt. Eric A. Jones, 29, were in the Huey that collided with the Cobra carrying David S. Mitchell, 30, and Kyle R. Van De Giesen, 29.

Four days later, a Camp Pendleton-based Cobra collided in flight with a Sacramento-based U.S. Coast Guard C-130 search plane near San Clemente Island, killing two Marines aboard the Cobra and seven Coast Guard members. Three separate military probes concluded there was no single factor that caused the crash.

More recently, a Marine pilot and his co-pilot were killed when their Cobra helicopter went down at Camp Pendleton on Sept. 19 during a training exercise, killing Capt. Jeffrey Bland, 37, and 1st Lt. Thomas Heitmann, 27. The crash sparked a brush fire that blackened about 120 acres near Fallbrook.

In July, 25-year-old Marine Sgt. Trevor Cook was killed and five other Marines were injured when a Huey helicopter went down in a hilly area in the northwestern reaches of Camp Pendleton, sparking a small brush fire that was quickly extinguished.

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