A U.S. Marine helicopter carrying 37 Marines on maneuvers crashed in an isolated mountain region on South Korea’s southeast coast early today, and 22 were killed, U.S. authorities said.
Fifteen Marines were injured, some critically, when the Sikorsky Sea Stallion crashed shortly before 7 a.m. south of the industrial port city of Pohang and 250 miles southeast of Seoul, a Marine Corps spokesman said.
The most seriously injured were evacuated to an amphibious assault ship off the Korean coast, the Belleau Wood, and the rest were flown to Seoul, the spokesman said.
Yonhap, the South Korean news agency, said in a report quoting South Korean military officials that the helicopter exploded and burst into flames before slamming into the ground. The report said the explosion appeared to have been caused by an engine defect.
2nd Crash in 4 Days
It was the second fatal crash involving a Marine helicopter in South Korea in four days. All four Marines were killed Friday when their CH-46 helicopter crashed in a rice paddy on the east coast.
Marine officials said there was no explanation for either crash.
Authorities were still trying to determine if the Sea Stallion crashed into a hillside or fell to the ground, U.S. military officials said.
Both helicopters were participating in the annual joint U.S.-South Korea military “Team Spirit” maneuvers, which include 60,000 U.S. personnel.
A U.S. military statement said the Sea Stallion, a CH-53D troop transporter, was assigned to the 1st Marine Air Wing, Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, in Okinawa, Japan. It carried a crew of four and 33 military passengers.
Marine officials said they did not know if the Marine unit aboard the helicopter was based in Japan or the United States.
Names of the injured and dead were withheld pending notification of next of kin.
About 30,000 U.S. troops from the United States and other parts of Asia are in South Korea to take part in “Team Spirit,” along with 30,000 U.S. service personnel who are based in South Korea.