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Marine Dies, 5 Hurt in Training Exercise in Angeles Forest

TIMES STAFF WRITER

One Marine died and five others were injured when they tumbled down a moonlit mountainside during a nighttime training expedition north of Los Angeles, authorities said Monday.

The Marines fell about 200 feet as they tried to cross a steeply angled concrete drainage channel next to Angeles Crest Highway late Sunday night, officials said.

Military officials said the Marines were members of a reconnaissance team taking part in a combination mountaineering exercise and marijuana farm search in the rugged Angeles National Forest, about 15 miles above Pasadena.

Names of the dead and injured, from Camp Pendleton’s 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, were being withheld until their families could be notified.

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The injured Marines were hoisted from the mountainside in a seven-hour rescue that involved Los Angeles County fire paramedics, sheriff’s deputies and the Montrose Search and Rescue Team.

The injured were taken by helicopter to Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena and to Verdugo Hills Medical Center in Glendale. There, one was reported in serious condition, two in fair condition and the other two in good condition.

Marine Corps investigators were sent Monday morning to the scene, near Barley Flats, in hopes of determining what caused the six men to fall.

“They weren’t tied together. They apparently lost their footing,” said Maureen Bossch, a spokeswoman for a joint military training headquarters at Ft. Bliss, Texas, that coordinates mountain training exercises for the Marine Corps and the Army.

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The accident occurred about 10:30 p.m. as the men were returning to their camp, Bossch said. One of the injured Marines managed to radio the team’s base camp for help, and colleagues there dialed 911 to summon civilian rescuers.

The mountains above Los Angeles often are the site of military mountaineering training, she said. Marines have used portions of the Angeles National Forest for reconnaissance exercises since 1989, she said.

Marines typically are dropped off in remote sections of the mountains in groups of about two dozen. Split up into six-man, self-sufficient teams, they stay out for days at a time, she said.

As they train, the Marines search for marijuana farms that might be hidden in remote canyons.

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“The Forest Service has problems with growth of marijuana. They ask us to train in areas where they have a problem. It’s great training for the military--a mutually beneficial thing,” Bossch said.

When Marines find marijuana being cultivated, Forest Service officials have it removed. “In the past, we’ve had some definite success stories,” she said.

Forest Service officials had no comment on Sunday’s incident. “They can be up there training and we know nothing about it,” Dianne Cahir, a spokeswoman for Angeles National Forest, said of the Marines.

Sheriff’s Lt. Jerry Carrigan said the drainage channel that the Marines attempted to cross is a “steep and sheer” concrete chute built to control erosion near Angeles Crest Highway.

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Fire Department Inspector Greg Cleveland, who was involved in the all-night rescue, said paramedics unsuccessfully attempted to revive the dead Marine.

Rescuers used ropes to pull the injured about 450 feet up to the road, he said.


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