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Survivors unlikely in aircraft collision off San Clemente Island, Pentagon says

October 30, 2009 | 11:52 am

As Coast Guard personnel continued to search for survivors from the midair collision of two military aircraft Thursday off San Clemente Island, a Pentagon spokesman said it's unlikely anyone survived the crash.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said it's likely all nine people on board the aircraft died in what he called a “tragic event.”

Still, searchers continued to comb the waters off the San Diego County coast.

 "We will continue to search as long as there is a chance of survivors," Coast Guard Rear Adm. Joseph Castillo told reporters at an 11 a.m. news conference in San Diego.

Seven Coast Guard members were aboard the C-130 plane and two Marine Corps pilots were flying a  Super Cobra helicopter when the aircraft collided shortly after 7 p.m., 20 miles east of the island. All nine are missing.

The C-130 had been ordered to the area from its base in Sacramento to assist in the search for a boat described as a 12-foot skiff.

The Super Cobra was among four Marine Corps helicopters from Camp Pendleton on a night training mission. San Clemente Island is owned by the Navy and the area around the island is a frequent training spot.

Castillo said the C-130 was equipped with communication gear and collision-warning alarms. "No system is perfect," he said.

The two craft were estimated to be at an altitude of 900 to 1,000 feet when they collided. Some debris has been found.

Castillo said that an investigation will determine the cause of the collision and how future incidents can be avoided.

On its flight southward from Sacramento, the C-130 was in contact with Federal Aviation Administration air traffic controllers.

As it approached San Clemente Island, outside FAA control, procedures called for it to contact the tower at North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado. Whether that contact was made is unclear, officials said.

-- Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo:  Rescuers in San Diego prepare to join the search this morning. Credit: Denis Poroy / Associated Press

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