Friday, February 24, 2012
A young man expecting his first child and a father of two are among the seven Marines killed when two helicopters collided near the Chocolate Mountains along the California-Arizona border.
Officials say it could take weeks to determine what caused the midair collision during a routine training exercise Wednesday night on a sprawling desert range near Yuma, Ariz.
Six of the Marines killed were from Camp Pendleton and one was from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona.
The family of 33-year-old Sgt. Justin Avery Everett says he had served two tours in Iraq and was about to deploy for a tour in Afghanistan when he was killed in the crash.
His mother says Everett left a job as a youth pastor in Fresno, Calif., to join the Marines after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Also among the dead is 25-year-old Lance Cpl. Corey Little, of Fayetteville, Ga.; Capt. Nathan W. Anderson, 32, of Amarillo, Texas; Maj. Thomas A. Budrejko, 37, of Montville, Conn.; Capt. Benjamin N. Cerniglia, 31, of Montgomery, Ala.; Lance Cpl. Nickoulas H. Elliott, 21, of Spokane, Wash.; and Capt. Michael M. Quin, 28, of Purcellville, Va.
Little was expecting his first child in September, the Associated Press reported.
Anderson was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma. The others were based at Camp Pendleton, according to USMC officials.
The local Marines killed in the crash belonged to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing based at MCAS Miramar. However, they were stationed at Camp Pendleton, along with their aircraft, Miramar spokeswoman 1st Lt. Maureen Dooley said. MAW Marines train in Yuma on a weekly basis, according to Dooley.
Two separate military probes were under way Friday into the deaths.
One investigation seeks to assign responsibility for Wednesday's crash and the other is looking at how to make inherently dangerous combat training safer by looking at equipment maintenance, training and procedures leading up to the crash, according to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar's public affairs office.
The crash occurred about 8 p.m. Wednesday when a AH-1W "Cobra'' and a UH-1 "Huey'' aircraft collided in flight over a remote part of the Yuma Training Range Complex. Two Marines were aboard the Cobra, and five in the Huey. No one survived the collision, which occurred in a section of the installation that extends into the far southeastern reaches of California, near the Chocolate Mountains.
Col. Robert Kuckuk, commanding officer of MCAS Yuma, said on Thursday that preliminary information about the "tremendous tragedy'' at his base was inconclusive.
"Exactly what happened during this particular operation, I don't know,'' he said. "Was it a live-fire exercise? I don't know, except that I know that they were carrying ordnance.''
Kuckuk said training in the part of the station where the accident occurred -- a locale he described as "an excellent simulation for both Iraq and Afghanistan'' -- would continue as investigators work to determine what caused the collision.
"The Marine Corps ... will find out exactly what happened,'' he told news crews. "If we can take steps to prevent it from happening again, we most certainly will.''
The colonel noted that the duties of military air crews are unavoidably hazardous, even during training and despite exhaustive safety measures. 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.