RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – A group of U.S. Marines was practicing how to exit a hovering helicopter by sliding down ropes when the aircraft had to land harder and faster than normal in North Carolina, killing one Marine and injuring 11 others Wednesday night, military officials said.
About 20 Marines at Camp Lejeune were participating in the training that requires them to exit through the back of the helicopter using suspended ropes, according to a news release. The technique allows Marines to enter and exit terrain where helicopter landings would be difficult.
The CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter made the hard landing around 9 p.m. in a training area known as Stone Bay, military officials said. A Marine spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to questions about whether the dead or injured Marines were inside the aircraft, on the ground or suspended from a rope.
The Marines described the accident as a hard landing, which generally describes when “an aircraft impacts the ground with a greater vertical speed and force than a normal landing, typically after a rapid or steep descent.”
The Super Stallion, a massive, heavy-lift helicopter, is the largest in the military and considered the Marine Corps’ workhorse.
The weather appeared to be calm at the time. Skies were clear, winds were less than 5 mph and the temperature was 79 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
One Marine was taken from the scene by medical aircraft and pronounced dead at the hospital, according to a news release. Two remained hospitalized in stable condition, including one awaiting “a minor procedure,” the release said. At least one of the hospitalized Marines was previously described as having serious injuries.
Nine have been treated and released. No names have been disclosed.
“The loss of a Marine or Sailor affects us all. My heartfelt condolences go out to the families and friends of our deceased Marine,” said Maj. Gen. William Beydler, commanding general of II Marine Expeditionary Force.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory said in a release that the “tragic accident reminds us all of the dangers and sacrifices our military men and women and their families face as they protect our freedom and way of life.”
The helicopter was assigned to Heavy Helicopter Squadron-464, Marine Aircraft group-29, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.
The CH-53E Super Stallion stands nearly three stories tall and has a top speed of 172 mph.
The Marine Corps website says the aircraft can carry 16 tons of cargo – such as the Marines’ Light Armored Vehicle – on a 100-mile roundtrip and says it has “the armament, speed and agility to qualify as much more than a heavy lifter.”
It was used in Afghanistan and Iraq to ferry troops and equipment to remote bases.
In 2005, a CH-53E went down in bad weather in western Iraq, killing 30 Marines and a sailor. At the time it was the worst loss of life for the Marines since the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, that killed 220 Marines.
Military officials said in 2005 that the model’s safety record was on par with other Marine Corps aircraft.
In April, a Marine Corps CH-53E had to make an emergency landing on a California beach after a low oil-pressure indicator light went on in the cockpit during training. It didn’t cause any damage or injuries.
In March, a Black Hawk crashed in a thick fog during training off Florida, killing 11 service members. The military said two National Guard pilots became disoriented while switching from visual-based to instrument-based flight procedures.