The recent helicopter crash in Southern California that claimed the lives of five Marines adds to a history of aviation tragedies and near-misses in the region, a bustling center for military and small aircraft activities.
Within a single week in June 2022, Southern California witnessed three military aircraft crashes. On June 3, U.S. Navy pilot Lt. Richard Bullock lost his life when his F/A-18E Super Hornet crashed near Trona.
Shortly after, five Marines on an MV-22B Osprey perished during a training exercise in the California desert near the Arizona border. Another Navy helicopter crashed in the same region, but all four crew members survived.
Last month, a Navy helicopter crashed off the coast of Coronado, California, with all six occupants surviving, according to military officials.
California has also seen notable accidents involving small planes and helicopters carrying civilians, exemplified by the tragic January 2020 helicopter crash in Calabasas that claimed the life of Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and eight others.
In July, a Cessna C550 business jet crashed near French Valley Airport in Murrieta, resulting in six fatalities. Days earlier, a small plane crashed near the same airport, leading to the death of a 39-year-old man and injuring three children.
Experts emphasize the significance of considering the considerable volume of both military and civilian air traffic in the region. Southern California witnesses substantial military activity due to over 30 federal military installations in the state.
Jack Cress, an instructor in the Aviation Safety & Security Program at the University of Southern California and a former U.S. Marine Corps helicopter pilot, notes that while the region’s challenging terrain and weather conditions pose challenges for pilots, the high volume of traffic likely contributes to accident rates.
Cress highlights that military accidents in the area are relatively rare, often occurring during demanding tactical training. The recent crash involved a CH-53E Super Stallion, the same type of helicopter that crashed near El Centro, California, in 2018 during a training mission.
Despite the challenges, advancements in manufacturing, design, technology, and increased education and awareness have significantly improved safety in the aviation industry, according to Paul Deres, vice president of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association’s Air Safety Institute.
On average, there are about 20 general aviation accidents weekly in the United States, with approximately a quarter being fatal crashes, according to Peter C. Knudson, a spokesperson for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
Between 2012 and 2021, California reported more than 1,130 accidents, including 239 fatalities, according to NTSB data. Deres underscores that we are currently in the safest era in general aviation.