A missing Marine Corps helicopter with five troops on board has been found in a mountainous area outside San Diego.
The aircraft was located just after 9am on Wednesday by civil authorities near the mountain community of Pine Valley, about a 45-mile drive from San Diego, but rescue crews said snowy conditions were making access challenging on the ground.
Rescuers are “using ground and aviation assets to locate the air crew in coordination with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and multiple federal state and local agencies”, the Marine Corps said in a statement.
The Marines were flying a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter from Creech Air Force Base, north west of Las Vegas, where they had been training and were returning home to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.
Waves of heavy downpours hit the area throughout the night and snow was forecast for San Diego County mountains.
The five US Marines were assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Miramar
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department was notified at 1am that the craft was overdue for arrival at Miramar and was last seen in the area of Pine Valley, a mountainous region near the Cleveland National Forest about 35 miles east of San Diego.
The military was coordinating search and rescue efforts with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the Civil Air Patrol, the Marine Corps said.
Heavy snow falling on Wednesday in the sparsely populated mountains covered in pine trees and thick brush was making access to the area challenging, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, said in a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The agency said it requested additional resources and was coordinating with the military, the US Forest Service, US Border Patrol, San Diego sheriff’s department and the state Civil Air Patrol.
The Cleveland National Forest covers 720 square miles and many parts of its steep, rocky mountains have limited trails.
President Joe Biden was briefed on the missing Marines, said White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.
“We’re watching this closely and again our thoughts are for the best,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said.
About 30m long, the CH-53E Super Stallion is the largest and heaviest helicopter in the military.
It can move troops and equipment over rugged terrain in bad weather, including at night, according to the Marine Corps website. It is also nicknamed the “hurricane maker” because of the amount of downwash generated from its three engines.
Two CH-53E helicopters were used in the capital of Mogadishu, Somalia, in January 1990 to rescue American and foreign allies from the US embassy.