Laguna Hills Helicopter Crash Kills 1, Injures 4 : Marine Super Stallion Ignites One-Acre Grass Fire When It Goes Down in Field

Times Staff Writer

A U.S. Marine Corps Super Stallion helicopter crashed Sunday in a vacant field in Laguna Hills, killing one person and injuring four others, a Marine spokesman said.

Marine Sgt. Pepper Davis of the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station said no one on the ground was injured. The identity of the deceased was not immediately available.

The injured were identified as the pilot, Maj. Robert Brewton, 40, of Pensacola, Fla.; the co-pilot, Lt. Bruce Houser, 25, of Warminster, Pa.; crew chief, Cpl. Kenneth Moffitt, 21, of Hendersonville, N.C., and mechanic, Cpl. Martin Grabowsky, 21, of Santee, Calif.

Injured Identified


Brewton was taken to Mission Community Hospital and was to be transfered to Long Beach Naval Hospital; the others were taken to a clinic at the El Toro Marine base.

The aircraft’s tail section and rear rotor were intact, but the front section was destroyed.

At the crash site, two Marine firefighters suffered heat exhaustion and were taken by helicopter to the medical clinic at El Toro. A persistent fire in the wreckage, which ignited a one-acre grass fire, kept 50 Marine and Orange County firefighters busy for almost two hours.

The aircraft crashed about 2:45 p.m., sending up a large column of dark smoke that was visible for miles.


A Marine spokesman said the cause of the crash is under investigation.

Crashed in Field

Firefighters used all-terrain equipment to drive up rugged hillsides to get to the isolated site. They employed water tankers and other emergency equipment.

The helicopter, a CH-53 Echo model of the Super Stallion, went down in a barren field in a northern section of the Aliso Viejo Ranch, owned by the Mission Viejo Co. The site is several miles from the El Toro base and nearly a mile from homes next to Moulton and Alicia parkways.


The aircraft is from New River, N.C., and was taking part in training exercises at the Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif. “It was on a routine supply and passenger run when it went down,” Davis said. He said he is uncertain about the destination of the craft.

Since 1981, 30 Tustin-based marines have died in Ch-53D Sea Stallion or Ch-53E Super Stallion helicopter crashes, a Marine spokesman said. Fifteen have died in the last three months at military bases worldwide. The helicopters are manufactured by Sikorsky Aircraft Co., a unit of United Technologies Corp. of Hartford, Conn. No Sikorsky Aircraft Co., spokesman could be reached Sunday.

Other Marines Killed

A Feb. 10, 1984, crash killed six Tustin Marines. On March 24, 1984, four more died under similar circumstances. On April, 14, 1984, another was killed in a helicopter crash, and on June 1, another four died. In 1985, 11 Tustin Marines were among 17 who died in a May 6 crash, and in mid-July, four more died during a training flight at Okinawa.