The parents of 23-year-old Sgt. Alec Langen have identified him as one of the five Marines who were tragically killed when their CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter went down in the mountains close to San Diego on Tuesday.
In a heartbreaking interview with ABC San Diego, Steve and Caryn Langen revealed that their son got married a little over a month before his death. It was his new bride who told his parents that their son had not returned home following the accident.
‘He died with people he wanted to be with, doing what he loved and wanted to do,’ his father told the station through tears. Their son, a native of Arizona, had been serving as crew chief on the doomed flight.
The military confirmed Thursday that all five Marines were killed when their helicopter went down during stormy weather, and efforts were underway to recover their remains.
Marine Corps officials notified the families in person while Marines have been stationed round-the-clock at the site to stay with the remains, said Col. James C. Ford, operations officer with 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.
Sgt. Alec Langen pictured on his father’s Facebook page. He was 23 years old
In a heartbreaking interview with ABC San Diego, Steve and Caryn Langen revealed that their son got married a little over a month before his death
It was his new bride who told his parents that their son had not returned home following the accident
In his interview, Steve Langen revealed that he too served on the same helicopter as his son for the Marines between 1986 and 1995.
‘We are so thankful to the San Diego responders that went up there and searched for them and found that crew. Without them, they wouldn’t be coming home,’ his mother said.
According to a Facebook post from his mother, Alec married his wife Casey in early January and were planning to move to North Carolina where he was going to be stationed.
Citing the ‘hazardous terrain and weather’ at the site, Ford said the ground recovery efforts will take place over coming weeks as an investigation into the crash is conducted.
Per military policy, the names of the Marines are not released until 24 hours after all next-of-kin have been notified.
‘He died with people he wanted to be with, doing what he loved and wanted to do,’ his father said through tears
The native of Arizona had been serving as crew chief on the doomed flight. He is pictured above in a different flight
Authorities are still working to recover the Marines’ remains. Sgt. Alec Langen is pictured right
Marine Corps leaders, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and President Joe Biden expressed their condolences.
‘It is with a heavy heart and profound sadness that I share the loss of five outstanding Marines from 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing and the ‘Flying Tigers,’ Maj. Gen. Michael J. Borgschulte, commander of the wing, said in a statement.
Authorities say the CH-53E Super Stallion vanished late Tuesday night while conducting a flight training on their way back to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego from Creech Air Force Base, northwest of Las Vegas.
The last known contact with the Super Stallion was at about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, when waves of downpours and snow were hitting the region, Mike Cornette of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection told CBS 8 news.
That location was based on a ‘ping’ reported to a Cal Fire dispatch center.
The Navy helicopter took off from Nevada to San Diego on Tuesday night
The CH-53E Super Stallion is the heavy-lift chopper most commonly used by the Marines to transport troops and equipment
Marines fly the model in the ‘most challenging environments you can think of,’ said Timothy Loranger, a former Marine Corps aircraft mechanic and now civilian pilot and lawyer who specializes in aviation crashes.
‘But even knowing that, it’s important for those making the decisions to decide whether the risk is worth it,’ he said.
‘Here was a training mission with the crew flying back home to Miramar, so you have to ask, why fly in this weather now? Was this poor judgement or some pilot error issue? These are very important questions that have to be asked.’
A mechanical issue in bad weather would also make flying even harder.
And while the helicopter was designed for bad weather, ice accumulation on rotor blades could disrupt the ability to create lift for the craft and cause it to crash, Loranger said.
All this will be part of the investigation, Loranger said, adding that it’s too early to speculate on what occurred. He said the Super Stallion has a long history of being reliable, but it’s not perfect.
The craft was discovered Wednesday morning near Pine Valley, an hour’s drive from San Diego.
The helicopter was heading to the Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, known for being the home of the Top Gun program – and the movie of the same name
The mountain community is at about 3,700 feet in elevation in the Cuyamaca Mountains, an area which saw as much 8 inches of accumulating snow within hours Tuesday night and early Wednesday and saw more falling Wednesday night, forecasters said.
The area includes San Diego County’s second highest mountain, Cuyamaca Peak, at 6,512 feet, and is also near the Cleveland National Forest, which covers 720 square miles with much of it steep, rocky and with limited trails.
The five Marines were assigned to Miramar’s Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Miramar.
Capt. Stephanie Leguizamon, spokesperson for the wing, said she had little information beyond the statement but noted that recovery efforts were being hampered by snowfall from the storm that was moving out of California on Thursday.
‘I do know that it’s cold… I know that’s been a contentious issue’ for searchers in reaching the crash site, she said.
Measuring about 99 feet long and weighing up to nearly 35 tons, the CH-53E Super Stallion has been used in combat and other operations around the world for more than three decades, including in Beirut, Somalia, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, according to a U.S. Navy website.
In 2018, four Marines from Miramar died when their Super Stallion crashed near El Centro, near the California-Mexico border, during a training mission.
The Marine Corps ruled out pilot error for the accident. The victims’ families later sued two companies they alleged provided a defective part that they blamed for the crash.
In 2005, a Super Stallion went down in a sandstorm in Iraq, killing 31 people on board. The accident, blamed on pilot error, was the single deadliest loss of U.S. troops during the war.
More than 130 are in operation.
Nicknamed the ‘hurricane maker’ because of the downwash from its three engines, the Super Stallion has a range of about 640 miles. It was designed to carry up to 55 troops or about 16 tons of cargo.