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Fatal helicopter crash underscores hazards of Marines' mission training (+video)

Thirteen Marines have died since October in serious aviation accidents during training, including seven killed late Wednesday when two helicopters collided in midair.

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The Marine Corps says seven Marines were killed in a collision of two helicopters north of Yuma, Ariz., during night training.
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A midair collision of two Marine Corps helicopters late Wednesday – in which seven US troops died – brings into sharp focus the dangers of routine military training missions and continues a recent uptick in dangerous accidents within the corps.

The crash occurred in a remote training area of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, which sits along the Arizona-California border and is home to some 4,000 Marines.

Nearly a dozen serious aviation accidents involving on-duty Marines occurred in 2011. In total, 13 Marines have been killed in such crashes since October.

The Marines call them “Class A Mishaps,” yet the moniker belies the serious nature of these events. They are defined as crashes resulting in $2 million or more in property damage, or in which a Department of Defense aircraft is destroyed, or in which “an injury or/and occupational illness results in a fatality or permanent total disability,” according to Capt. Brian Block, a Marine Corps spokesman.

Crashes are up sharply, from five such accidents in 2009 and five in 2010. “When they see a jump like this, they’ll look into it and see if they can find a common element,” says Rick Nelson, a former Navy helicopter pilot who has worked in Joint Special Operations Command and now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Marines on board the helicopters were preparing to deploy to war, and the exercises in the remote area of the training center simulate what they would expect to see in Afghanistan.

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