Pilots’ names released in deadly chopper crash

SAN DIEGO (CNS) – The Marine Corps released the names Tuesday of two USMC pilots killed in the crash of an attack helicopter during a training exercise at Camp Pendleton.

Capt. Jeffrey Bland, 37, and 1st Lt. Thomas Heitmann, 27, were piloting an AH-1W Super Cobra that went down for unknown reasons about 1 p.m. Monday in the southeastern reaches of the USMC station, near Fallbrook, according to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing's public affairs office.

The accident sparked a fast-moving brush fire that blackened about 120 open acres before military and civilian crews were able to halt its spread. As of 8:45 this morning, the smoldering burn area was roughly 80 percent surrounded, said Lt. Ryan Finnegan of Camp Pendleton's public affairs office.

The blaze, which remained on military property, caused no reported structural damage or injuries.

“We're not worried anymore that it's going to go off base,” Finnegan said in the late morning.

Military investigators are working to determine the cause of the crash, said Sgt. Sean P. McGinty, a spokesman for the 3rd MAW.

Bland and Heitmann died at the scene of the accident.

Both men were assigned to Marine Light Attack Helicopter Training Squadron 303, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing.

Bland, a native of Champaign, Ill., joined the Marine Corps in June 1997. His military decorations include a Selected Marine Corps Reserve Medal, Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon, Iraq Campaign Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Air Medal, Korean Defense Service Medal, two Navy Marine Corps Commendation Medals and three Sea Service Deployment Ribbons.

Heitmann, of Mendota, Ill., entered the Marines in May 2008. His awards include a National Defense Service Medal and a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

Lt Col. Robert Morgan, commanding officer of the training squadron on which Bland and Heitmann served, asked the public to “pray for the families of the warriors that we have lost.”

Categories: KUSI