CH-53E Super Stallion Crashes in California: Four Casualties Reported. Harrier Lost in Africa, Pilot Ejected.
The U.S. Marine 3rd Aircraft Wing has reported that a CH-53E Super Stallion heavy lift helicopter has crashed at approximately 1435 Hrs. local north of the Mexico/California border on Apr. 3, 2018. Four fatalities are being reported. The aircraft was on a training mission near the city of El Centro, California when it went down.
No cause for the crash has been reported. A crash investigation is reported to be underway. Identities of the four crash victims have not yet been released pending official notification of families.
The Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion is the largest heavy lift helicopter in the U.S. arsenal. It is a three-engine aircraft with a lift capacity in excess of fifteen tons and uses a large, seven-blade main rotor. Developed from the U.S. Navy’s CH-53 Sea Stallion that first flew in 1966, the U.S. Marine CH-53E Super Stallion was introduced in 1981 as the CH-53 Sea Stallion.
Other notable losses in the history of the CH-53 heavy lift helicopter family include a total of four CH-53s lost during the May 1975 Mayaguez Incident. Three of the helicopters were shot down by Khmer Rouge guerillas resulting in the deaths of 10 Marines, 2 Navy Corpsmen and 2 Air Force crewmen. A fourth CH-53 from the 21st Special Operations Squadron, aircraft #68-10933, using the callsign “Knife 13” went down in an accident while transiting to U Tapao Airbase in Thailand in support of the operation, killing all 23 onboard. Another early version of the aircraft, the U.S. Navy RH-53D, became infamous during the failed Iran hostage rescue mission in 1980 when it collided with another aircraft in a sandstorm, killing 8 U.S. servicemen.
Early incidents with heavy lift helicopters including the CH-53 family underscored the need for the development of advanced tilt-rotor aircraft like the current MV-22 Osprey.
Tuesday’s fatal helicopter crash in California came just before a USMC AV-8B Harrier aircraft crashed that same day in Africa. The pilot of a USMC Harrier ejected from his aircraft and was reported to have walked to an ambulance for medical care according to a report on USNI News by Sam LaGrone and Megan Eckstein.
An official statement about the accident indicated, “Doctors said the pilot was in stable condition and being evaluated at Camp Lemonnier’s expeditionary medical facility.” Camp Lemonnier is a U.S. expeditionary base located in Djibouti, Africa.
The Harrier aircraft that went down was attached to the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The accident occurred during takeoff from Djibouti Ambouli International Airport just after 4 p.m. local time, according to a statement from the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.
According to fleet spokesman U.S. Navy Commander Bill Urban, the AV-8B Harrier that crashed was assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 162 of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit. The aircraft flew from the assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7) and was participating in the “Alligator Daggar” tactical exercise that began this week in the region.
The McDonnell-Douglas AV-8B Harrier is an advanced, U.S. version of the original British V/STOL (Vertical/Short Take Off and Landing) Harrier “jump jet” dating back to 1967. The aircraft is currently being replaced in U.S. Marine and other services by the F-35B STOVL variant of the Joint Strike Fighter.