RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – The U.S. Marine who died during a helicopter accident at Camp Lejeune was part of a Virginia-based anti-terror and security team training on how to use ropes to access difficult terrain, officials said Friday.
Military officials identified the dead Marine as 31-year-old Staff Sgt. Jonathan Lewis from Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team, Company B, based in Yorktown, Virginia. He was a native of Warrenton, Virginia.
Two Marines remained hospitalized in stable condition Friday, while nine have been treated and released.
About 20 Marines from Virginia and North Carolina were participating Wednesday night in training that requires them to exit through the back of a helicopter using suspended ropes. The rappelling and fast-rope techniques allow Marines to enter terrain where helicopter landings would be difficult.
“The training requires the highest-caliber Marine,” said Col. Jeffrey Kenney, officer in charge of the Expeditionary Operations Training Group. He described the training as “high-risk” but also “invaluable” because it allows Marines to deploy anywhere.
Marine officials said at a news conference that Lewis was inside the CH-53E Super Stallion when it landed harder and faster than normal around 9 p.m. in a Camp Lejeune training area. They declined to elaborate on how the accident happened or discuss the maintenance history of the helicopter.
Col. Sean Salene, commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 29, said that the aircraft is damaged and that officials haven’t determined whether it will return to service.
A 2003 edition of the Marines’ manual for Helicopter Rope Suspension Techniques warns of the potential for injury or death in the training. It also discusses how nighttime operations can be a challenge, lays out safety procedures and primes Marines on how wind from the helicopter’s rotors can affect them.
It’s not clear if those factors played a role; the Marines said a full investigation will take some time. The National Weather Service said skies were clear and winds were calm at the time.
The helicopter was assigned to Heavy Helicopter Squadron-464, Marine Aircraft group-29, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing.
The Super Stallion, a massive, heavy-lift helicopter, is the largest in the military and considered the Marine Corps’ workhorse. It stands nearly three stories tall and has a top speed of 172 mph.
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.
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.
Another type of helicopter – a Black Hawk – was involved in a deadly March crash off Florida in heavy fog, killing 11 service members. The military said two National Guard pilots became disoriented while switching from visual-based to instrument-based flight procedures.