SAN DIEGO—As many as nine Coast Guard and Marine Corps personnel were missing Friday after a mid-air collision between a Coast Guard transport plane and a USMC light attack helicopter about 15 miles east of San Clemente Island, authorities said.
The collision was reported around 7:10 p.m. Thursday, according to USCG Petty Officer Henry Dunphy. As of 6 a.m., pilots and sailors were still searching for survivors in and around an ocean debris field spotted between San Clemente Island the San Diego County coast, spokespersons for the Coast Guard and the Marine Corps said.
"We are always hopeful ... the assumption is always that they are alive,'' said USCG Capt. Thomas Farris, noting that a person could survive in the water for 19-20 hours and possibly longer, depending on body type and clothing.
The maritime agency sent three of its cutters and an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter to the area to search for survivors, while the Navy sent four vessels and multiple helicopters.
Seven people were believed to be aboard the Coast Guard C-130, and two were in the AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter.
The water temperature overnight was around 64 degrees, according to National Weather Service forecaster Brandt Maxwell. The sky above the crash sight was clear and calm, he said.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known.
The missing Coast Guard plane and its crew are from Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento, said USCG Petty Officer 2nd Class Jetta Disco. Crews from the Sacramento Coast Guard station fly search-and-rescue, law enforcement and logistics missions. According to Farris, the crew involved in the crash was searching for a missing person, who remains missing.
The missing Marine Corps aircraft is an AH-1W Cobra light attack helicopter, said U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Michael Stevens at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. The Cobra and its crew are part of Marine Aircraft Group 39, based at Camp Pendleton, and the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, which is headquartered at Miramar, Stevens said.The Cobra crew was on a training mission when the accident occurred, Stevens said.
In May, there were two fatal crashes involving locally based military aircraft. On May 5, two Miramar-based Marines died when their Super Cobra helicopter crashed during a training flight in the Cleveland National Forest, about six miles east of Pine Valley.
On May 19, five crew members aboard a Navy HH-60H Seahawk helicopter died when their aircraft crashed into the Pacific Ocean, about 15 miles south of Point Loma.
The cause of the May 19 crash was not made public. Authorities said the May 5 crash was caused by a transmission cover that wasn't fully secured. The cover flew off in flight and struck a tail rotor.