In the latest in a string of fatal helicopter training exercises in Southern California during the last five weeks, four Marines were killed Monday at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms.
The Marines, based at Camp Pendleton, were aboard a UH-1 Huey helicopter, one of three that were flying a simulated, “close-in fire support” exercise with light armored vehicles about 10 a.m. Monday, Marine Corps spokesman Capt. John Manley said.
Two Marines died at the crash site, about 12 miles northwest of the airfield on the sprawling base northeast of Palm Springs, and two others died at the base’s naval hospital, Manley said.
On Sept. 7, three Marines and an Army officer were killed when two AH-1 Cobra helicopters collided during night training exercises.
On Sept. 13, a 21-year-old Marine collapsed and died during a formation training run.
Although there were differences in the two helicopter accidents--one was at night involving two Cobra gunships, and Monday’s occurred in daylight and involved the Huey utility helicopter--base officials were frustrated by the incidents.
“This is the Marine Corps’ premier training base, and we train almost every day of the year,” Manley said. “We train more than 50,000 Marines a year in combined arms exercises. The training is as hard and arduous as training can be, but safety is our No. 1 concern.
“Accidents occur sometimes,” he said, “and they are truly unfortunate.”
Killed in the Monday accident were Capt. Clifford T. Hewlett, 30, from Loch Sheldrake, N.Y.; Capt. Michael J. Griffin Jr., 26, from Tallahassee, Fla.; Sgt. Peter C. Bazzarini, 25, from Ft. Collins, Colo., and Cpl. Jeffrey L. Nevius, 20, from Corsicana, Tex.
Besides the eight helicopter crash deaths at Twentynine Palms Air Ground Combat Center, five other servicemen and a civilian have died in just over a month in Southern California--four in helicopter crashes and two in armored vehicles.
On Sept. 8, a Marine and a Navy officer based at Camp Pendleton were killed when their Super Cobra helicopter apparently broke apart while on a training flight over San Diego.
On Aug. 16, a Marine captain and a civilian photographer were killed when their Super Cobra, based at Camp Pendleton, collided with another Marine helicopter near Santa Catalina Island.
On Aug. 19, two soldiers were killed and 11 injured at the Army’s Ft. Irwin, north of Barstow, when three tank-like vehicles plunged over a 15-foot cliff.