In the second fatal accident of its kind in four days, a Tustin-based helicopter engaged in military exercises in South Korea crashed early today, killing 19 Marines stationed at Tustin Marine Air Corps Station and at nearby Camp Pendleton, authorities said.
The helicopter, a CH-53D Sea Stallion with 34 crew and Marines on board, crashed at about 6:50 a.m. Korean time in a mountainous region 14 miles west of the port city of Pohang on South Korea’s east coast, authorities said. (Earlier story, Part I, Page 4.)
15 Survive Crash
Fifteen Marines survived the crash and were taken to an Army hospital in Seoul and to the amphibious assault ship Belleau Wood, stationed off the coast.
The names of the dead and injured are being withheld until relatives could be notified, said Lt. Gene Browne, a spokesman for Tustin Marine Air Corps Station.
The helicopter, from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363, was carrying four crew members from Tustin and 30 ground troops from the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, based at Camp Pendleton, said Capt. Elizabeth Kerstens, a Marine Corps spokeswoman in Washington.
Flying in Hazy Weather
Kerstens said the cause of the crash is under investigation. Early reports indicate that the copter was flying in hazy and possibly foggy weather.
Lt. Col. Thomas Boyd, U.S. Pacific Command spokesman in Hawaii, said the copter went down in a dry river bed.
The Marines had been taking part in annual military exercises called “Team Spirit” involving about 60,000 U.S. and South Korean troops.
On Friday, a Tustin-based CH-46E Sea Knight transport helicopter crashed in the same general area, killing four crewmen. Authorities are still investigating that incident.
Boyd said today that although it is not likely that the two accidents are related, officials will consider grounding the helicopters.
Operation to Continue
“We have not had any word as to grounding,” he said. “It depends on the initial investigation, but I wouldn’t rule it out. I would think that decision would be made today.”
Boyd said, however, that Operation Team Spirit will continue until its scheduled end on Thursday.
The effect of the two crashes on the Tustin base has been devastating, officials said.
“It’s always a tragedy when something like this happens, especially when it involves local people,” Browne said. “I personally am very depressed about it, and I haven’t been able to sleep since it happened because of all the calls we have been getting from relatives. People are obviously very upset.”
Browne said officials have set up a toll-free hot line for concerned relatives and friends at 1 (800) 367-2127.