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Weather hinders search for 5 Marines despite missing helicopter being found

UPI
US Marines disembark the Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion, a heavy-lift helicopter, during combined airborne and maritime infiltration drills with South Korean and British troops in Pohang, South Korea, in March 2023. File Photo by Yonhap/EPA-EFE

Feb. 7 (UPI) -- Rescuers found a military helicopter that had been missing since before dawn on Wednesday and the search continues for the five-member crew.

The helicopter, a Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion, was found about 40 miles from San Diego in Pine Valley at about 9 a.m., according to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. The Marine Corps has been leading the search and rescue effort after it was reported overdue about 1:40 a.m.

Officials did not say what condition the helicopter was in when it was found.

A report by CNN cited Cal Fire and the San Diego County Sheriff's Department in saying the search was taking place in muddy terrain that is being affected by a mix of rain and snow.

The five mission soldiers aboard the flight were assigned to the Marine Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, an agency statement said.

The helicopter was traveling from the Creech Air Force Base near Las Vegas to the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Deigo went it went missing, Marine Corps officials said. Rescue crews initially searched an area of the Cleveland National Forest east of San Diego.

The search started before dawn when the California Department of Forestry and Fire received a call at about 2:20 a.m. saying that the flight was overdue to San Diego, according to CBS News.

The San Diego Sheriff's Department said it sent its helicopter out to search after receiving a call about 1:50 a.m. Officials said it could not immediately reach the search area because of a lingering storm system in the area.

The department said it eventually sent off-road vehicles to probe rough terrain.

The search for the crew continued Wednesday afternoon, but was being hampered by the atmospheric river weather system that is pounding California with torrential rain and extremely heavy snow.

The area is experiencing "heavy snowfall making access difficult," CalFire San Diego said in a social media post Wednesday afternoon.

The Sikorsky CH-53E is almost 100 feet long and been considered a workhorse for the Marine Corps for years. "It is capable of rapidly transporting troops and equipment from ship-to-shore: launching amphibious assaults, facilitating logistics and maintenance, providing sustainment and supplies," according to The Naval Air Systems Command.

The helicopter can carry up to 16 tons of cargo.