Caspers Park : Marines Who Died in Copter Crash Identified

The two Marine Corps crew members killed in the crash of a military helicopter in rugged terrain in the Cleveland National Forest near Ronald W. Caspers Regional Park were identified Saturday as California residents stationed at Camp Pendleton.

Marine Lt. Col. Jerry Shelton identified the victims as Maj. Kenneth D. Johnson of Fallbrook and 1st Lt. Thomas R. Riggs of La Canada-Flintridge.

The crash occurred at 3:20 p.m. Friday. The two victims, who were attached to Marine Aircraft Group 39 of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Camp Pendleton, were on routine maneuvers when the aircraft slammed into a canyon in thick brush three miles northeast of the Lazy-W Ranch, Shelton said.

A U.S. Forest Service crew discovered the downed helicopter while extinguishing a fire caused by the crash, said Daryl Paige, a dispatcher in the Cleveland National Forest at San Juan Hot Springs. It took firefighters from the Forest Service and the county Fire Department about two hours to extinguish the fire.

A search-and-rescue crew from the El Toro Marine base managed to retrieve one of the bodies late Friday, but darkness prevented the team from removing the second body until early Saturday.

Saturday morning, observers at the scene, which is about two miles from the nearest road, said the two-seat AH-1T Cobra attack helicopter had practically disintegrated upon impact.

Shelton said investigators from the Marine Aircraft Mishap Board were inspecting the wreckage Saturday. They will create a "flight profile," an outline of the craft's path, in hopes of determining the cause.

The helicopter was on its second "local routine training mission" of the day when it crashed, Shelton said. He said training flights occur in the area numerous times daily.

The helicopter was manufactured by Bell Helicopter Textron and is a variant of the H1-J helicopter that was introduced in 1965. It carries a pilot and gunner, Shelton said. The craft has a narrow, 38-inch fuselage and stub wings on the sides to carry missiles or rocket packs.

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