Rescuers were battling heavy snow Wednesday to reach a Marine Corps helicopter carrying five troops that went down in the mountains outside San Diego.
The CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter — the largest helicopter in the military, designed to fly in harsh conditions — had gone missing as an historic storm dumped heavy snow and record rain over California.
Civilian authorities searching on ground and by air located the aircraft just after 9 a.m. Wednesday near the mountain community of Pine Valley, about a 45-mile (72-kilometer) drive from San Diego, but snowy conditions were making it challenging to gain access on the ground, officials said. The fate of those aboard wasn’t immediately known.
The Marines were flying from Creech Air Force Base, northwest of Las Vegas, where they had been doing unit-level training and were returning home to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, defense officials said.
It was not immediately known what time the helicopter left Creech nor what time they were due to arrive. Waves of heavy downpours hit the area throughout the night and heavy snow fell in the mountains in Southern California.
The last known contact with the helicopter was at about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, Cal Fire’s spokesperson Mike Cornette told CBS 8 news. That location was based on a “ping” reported to a Cal Fire dispatch center. The agency sent several engines and an ambulance to the area overnight.
Cal Fire officials said the military helicopter was reported missing in an area north of Interstate 8 and Kitchen Creek Road, located southeast of Pine Valley, which is at about 3,700 feet (1,127 meters) in elevation in the Cuyamaca Mountains.
Pine Valley was experiencing light rain and wind between about 11 p.m. and 1 a.m., said Casey Oswant, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, San Diego. Weather data from the region is relatively sparse, she said.
Snow likely began around 6 a.m., with 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 centimeters) accumulating within a matter of hours, according to another nearby weather station.