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Rescue efforts continue in military midair collision off San Diego coast

October 30, 2009 |  8:05 am

Coastguard Multiple aircraft and ships from the Coast Guard and Navy are searching this morning for nine people off the San Diego County coast after two military aircraft collided midair.

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A Coast Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft from Air Station Sacramento had seven people aboard when it collided with an AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing stationed at Camp Pendleton, which had two pilots.

The collision occurred about 7:10 p.m. Thursday about 20 miles east of San Clemente Island. The C-130 was on a search mission.The Super Cobra was on a routine night exercise, the Marine Corps said.

Debris has been spotted in the water, and Coast Guard and Navy crews searched through the night, using four cutters and several aircraft. Reported visibility in the area is unlimited, “allowing for ideal search conditions,” the latest release stated.

“We’re hoping with more daylight that we’ll get a better idea of the search area,” said Jetta Disco, Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class.

Early reports indicated that the search would continue through at least Saturday and then would become a recovery mission, but Disco dismissed those reports.

“We’re going to have all our assets out there searching for survivors until those assets are exhausted,” she said.

In May, there were two fatal crashes involving locally based military aircraft. On May 5, two Marines based at the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station 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.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego and Baxter Holmes

Photo: A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter lifts off at the San Diego Coast Guard Station during today's search effort. Credit: Denis Poroy / Associated Press

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