YUMA, AZ — Authorities have released the names of two Marine pilots who died in a helicopter crash during a training mission in southwestern Arizona.
The pilots were identified Monday as 34-year-old Maj. Matthew Wiegand, of Ambler, Pennsylvania and 30-year-old Capt. Travis Brannon, of Nashville, Tennessee.
The men were killed near Yuma when their helicopter crashed during a routine training mission on Saturday night. Marine officials say the crash happened around 8:45 p.m.
The pilots were flying in an AH-1Z Viper helicopter as part of the Weapons and Tactics Instructor course.
"You're training the experts, so in this case, these were probably both experienced pilots, operating and doing things that they would go back and then train their pilots at home for," said Ed Coleman, Safety Science Department Chair at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott.
Wiegand held qualifications in the AH-1W Super Cobra and AH-1Z Viper. He was assigned to a unit stationed at MCAS Yuma. Brannon was assigned to a unit stationed in Hawaii at MCAS Kaneohe Bay and was attending the instructor course.
"At the crash scene, they'll be looking at impact marks found, ground scars, burns, burn areas - if that's the case - to try and determine what angles and what forces were acting on the aircraft when it went in," Coleman said.
The station is located about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) from Yuma, and the 1,300 square mile (3,367 square kilometer) training ground is one of the world's largest military installations.
There have been several fatal crashes involving Marine Corps aircraft near Yuma over the years.
In 1996, a Marine electronic-warfare plane went down during a training mission on a gunnery range near the Gila Mountains, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) east of the Yuma station, killing all four people aboard. The crew was from the Marine base at Cherry Point, North Carolina, and was training at Yuma.
Two Marine pilots, a crew chief and a Navy corpsman died in a 2007 crash of a search-and-rescue helicopter near the Colorado River during a training mission. The crew members were attached to a headquarters squadron of Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma.
In 2012, seven Marines were killed when an AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopter and a UH-1Y Huey utility helicopter collided in midair during a training exercise in a remote area of the Yuma training grounds.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey ordered that flags at all state buildings be lowered to half-staff from sunrise to sunset tomorrow, Tuesday, April 2, 2019, to honor the life of the two pilots.