LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Pinehurst Marine was among four Marines killed when their helicopter crashed while they were practicing desert landings in Southern California, the Miramar air station in San Diego said Wednesday.

The Marines took off from a ground-combat center in the city of Twentynine Palms for the routine training mission on Tuesday.

The massive CH-53E Super Stallion crashed about 100 miles (160 kilometers) to the south in a remote desert area just outside of El Centro, near the U.S.-Mexico border. There were no survivors.

First Lt. Samuel D. Phillips, 27, who grew up in Pinehurst was a pilot assigned to HMH-465. He joined the Marine Corps in August 2013.

Phillips’ previous duty stations include NAS Pensacola, NAS Corpus Christi and MCAS New River. He has no personal awards and has not deployed.

Capt. Samuel A. Schultz, 28, of Huntington Valley, Pennsylvania, was a pilot assigned to HMH-465. He joined the Marine Corps in May 2012.

Schultz’ previous duty stations include Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida; Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas; and MCAS New River, North Carolina.

Schultz previously deployed with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit. He has no personal awards.

Gunnery Sgt. Richard Holley, 33, of Dayton, Ohio, was a CH-53 helicopter crew chief assigned to HMH- 465. He joined the Marine Corps in November 2003.

Holley’s previous duty stations include Marine Corps Base Quantico and MCAS Miramar. He previously deployed to Iraq twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, to Japan as part of the Unit Deployment Program, and with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Holley’s personal awards consist of the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (4th award), Air Medal-Strike/Flight (9th award), and the Navy and Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal (4th award). 

Lance Cpl. Joseph Conrad, 24, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, was a CH-53 helicopter crew chief assigned to HMH-465. Conrad joined the Marine Corps in May 2016. He has no personal awards and has not deployed.

L,R: Lance Cpl. Taylor J. Conrad, Gunnery Sgt. Derik R Holley, 1st Lt. Samuel D. Phillips, Capt. Samuel A. Schultz (courtesy of Marine Times)

The helicopter was with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing out of Miramar air station in San Diego.

Practicing desert landings is a routine part of training, said Capt. Morgan Frazer with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

“We’re supposed to practice landing in austere environments,” Frazer said. “It allows them to practice landing with reduced visibilities because of the dust that gets blown up from the rotor.”

Such landings also require extremely good communication among a team, since some crew members might not be able to see anything at all, she said.

The cause of the crash is under investigation and could take months to determine.

Weather doesn’t appear to be a factor.

“It was pretty much a warm clear day,” said Chief Deputy Thomas Garcia with the Imperial Valley Sheriff’s Office. “Nothing stormy or rainy or anything like that.”

The bodies of the Marines were recovered from the crash site late Tuesday and taken to a coroner’s facility, said Deputy Coroner Derrick Lindberg with the Imperial Valley Sheriff’s Office.

The Marine Corps will take custody of the bodies to conduct autopsies, he said.

“We ask that you keep these brave service members in your thoughts and prayers,” said a Facebook post by the nearby Naval Air Facility El Centro, one of the many agencies that responded to the crash site.

President Donald Trump sent his condolences to the families, tweeting that his thoughts and prayers were with the fallen Marines.

“We pray for their families, and our great @USMC,” Trump tweeted .

The CH-53E Super Stallion is the largest helicopter in the U.S. military and has been in service for more than 30 years. It is used for minesweeping and transport and can carry dozens of troops and tons of cargo.

Two CH-53Es collided off the coast of Oahu in Hawaii two years ago, killing 12 Marines.

Tuesday’s crash is the deadliest involving a Marine aircraft since a KC-130T transport plane went down in Mississippi last July, killing 15 Marines and a sailor.

Feature photo: First Lt. Samuel D. Phillips, courtesy of U.S. Marine Corps.

This article was written with the help of The Associated Press

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