Tragically, a Marine Corps Cobra Helicopter with two souls on board crashed and burned in an area of eastern San Diego County known as Kitchen Creek (north of Interstate 8) on Tuesday night, just before midnight. The helicopter was returning from a training mission in Yuma Arizona with live ordinance on board at the time of the crash. Both Marine Corps pilots on the helicopter, one male and one female, were fatally injured.
The helicopter was assigned to the 3rd Marine Aviation Wing at the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station and had been training with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit just prior to the crash. The crash sparked a brush fire which continued to flare up off and on throughout Wednesday.
The location of the crash is within the boundaries of the Cleveland National Forest prompting a response from U.S. Forest Service fire crews as well as the San Diego County Sheriff's Fire Helicopter. Firefighters and military personnel were concerned with un-exploded ordinance scattered in the area.
The Sheriff's fire helicopter "Copter 12" remained on scene until late Wednesday evening dropping water on hot spots and flare ups.
At the time of the crash there were no unusual weather patterns and there was high moon light level. The high moon light levels provide excellent visibility for flying at night on night vision goggles. While it is not known for certain at this time whether the crew was flying on NVG's it is quite probable.
According to unnamed sources at the scene of the crash the crew may have been experiencing engine and/or avionics problems and may have been trying to return the helicopter to their base at Miramar. That information is preliminary and unconfirmed. The helicopter was accompanied by a second Marine helicopter when it went down.
Even though this is a military helicopter crash it still garners much interest and concern from other helicopter pilots, including law enforcement, fire, and EMS pilots. As law enforcement pilots we often share the same airspace and fly over the same terrain as or military counterparts (while they are here in the U.S.) as well as sharing the same safety of flight issues. While we don't know the cause of this crash, an engine out at night time, in the back country (even if the pilot is flying on NVG's) is a scenario all helicopter pilots must think about and plan for.
The staff at police helicopter pilot.com extends it's condolences to the families of the two pilots, and thanks them for their service and ultimate sacrifice for our country. We will follow the crash investigation and provide updates as information becomes available.
The United States Marine Corps has identified the two crash victims as Capt. Jessica Conkling (27) of Centre, Pa., and 1st. Lt. Aaron Cox (26) of Pulaski, Ark. Conkling and Cox are American Patriots and should be remembered as such. The cause of the crash is still under investigation.