LOS ANGELES (AP) — The bodies of four crew members killed when their Marine helicopter crashed during a training mission in the Southern California desert have been removed from the crash site, authorities said Wednesday.
The crew members were recovered 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.
The CH-53E Super Stallion went down Tuesday afternoon in a desert area just outside El Centro, near the U.S.-Mexico border.
The cause of the crash is under investigation.
"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 helicopter was with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing out of Miramar air station in San Diego.
"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.
The names of the crew members were expected to be released later Wednesday, 24 hours after their relatives were notified, said Capt. Morgan Frazer with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.
She said the squadron involved in the crash and other details also should be released.
The CH-53E Super Stallion is the largest helicopter in the U.S. military. It is used for minesweeping and transport and can carry dozens of troops and tons of cargo.
The crash is the deadliest involving a Marine aircraft since a KC130T transport plane went down in Mississippi last July, killing 15 Marines and a sailor.
Two years ago, 12 Marines died when two helicopters collided off the coast of Oahu in Hawaii.