Training flights suspended after Calif. air crash

AP News
Posted: Sep 20, 2011 8:23 PM
Training flights suspended after Calif. air crash

Training flights for a Marine Corps squadron were suspended Tuesday, a day after two pilots were killed in a helicopter crash during a training exercise at Camp Pendleton.

Nonessential flights were put on hold at the Southern California base, as well as at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station and in Yuma, Ariz., said Sgt. Derek Carlson with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

Operational pauses occur occasionally and aren't typically due to a single incident, he said.

"It allows individual squadrons time to take a break and make sure they take a look at safety procedures and get in-house training," Carlson said.

The suspension is expected to continue until Thursday.

The pilots killed in Monday's crash of an attack helicopter were Capt. Jeffrey Bland, 37, a native of Champaign, Ill., and 1st Lt. Thomas Heitmann, a 27-year-old native of Mendota, Ill.

Their twin-engine, two-seat AH-1W Cobra helicopter went down during training in a remote area of Camp Pendleton. The helicopter burned, igniting a brush fire that burned about 120 acres.

Bland was commissioned in the Marine Corps in 1997 and Heitmann was commissioned in 2008. They were assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Training Squadron 303, Marine Aircraft Group 39, of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Air Station Miramar.

Several accidents have happened in recent months involving Marine Corps training in Southern California, including a fatal accident in July.

In August, two Marines were ejected from their F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet as it plunged toward the Pacific Ocean. The two Marines spent four hours in the dark, chilly ocean before they were rescued. Both suffered broken bones and are undergoing rehabilitation at a San Diego hospital.

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In July, a decorated Marine from western New York was killed during a training exercise when his UH-1Y helicopter went down in a remote section of Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego.

Another Hornet sustained at least $1 million damage when its engine caught fire on March 30 aboard the USS John C. Stennis during a training exercise about 100 miles off the San Diego coast. Eight sailors, a Marine and two civilians were injured.

The Navy has said debris in the engine is the suspected cause of that fire.