Fatal Night Stalker Helicopter Crash Has Occurred On San Clemente Island

The incident took place late at night on the evening of August 27th, 2020, killing two and injuring three more.

Vehicle Interdiction with the 1st Raiders
Marine Corps Activity Guam—Public Domain

A highly customized MH-60 special operations Black Hawk belonging to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, also known as the Night Stalkers, crashed on San Clemente Island late Thursday night. Two were killed and three more were injured in the tragic incident. 

10 News San Diego, the local ABC affiliate, was first to report on the mishap. San Diego Union-Tribune later quoted J. Elise Van Pool, a U.S. Army spokeswoman, as stating: 

“At this time we are not releasing anything beyond the statement provided... We are still in the process of making next of kin notifications and will not release any additional information until that process is complete.”

Another official made it clear to the Union-Tribune that the crash occurred on San Clemente Island, which lies off the coast of Southern California. They also confirmed with an unnamed official that the 160th SOAR was the unit involved. 

The island is really a massive military installation with a bombing range, radar and telemetry support infrastructure, a large airfield, and more, including a sprawling special operations training area on its northern tip. This area is dominated by an elaborate military operations in urban terrain (MOUT) training complex that I was the first to profile six years ago. You can read all about it here. It is unclear at this time if the crash happened at this complex or somewhere else nearby, but extremely dynamic flying does occur at the MOUT site and the 160th SOAR are regular visitors there. Waterborne infiltration and exfiltration, aerial refueling, ship boarding, and many other special operations training tasks occur around the island that could involve the 160th SOAR, as well. 

GABRIEL ZEIFMAN

The MOUT on San Clemente Island is part of a larger special operations complex that takes up the northern tip of the Navy-controlled island. It includes a small city and a nearby fishing village, which simulate urban environments where U.S. special operators may find themselves on real-world missions. The U.S. Navy SEALs, which are based nearby in Coronado, primarily use the complex, but other special operations units visit it, as well. 

The 160th SOAR is tasked with the most challenging helicopter flying on earth and they regularly train with special operations personnel from across the services and federal law enforcement. They are widely regarded as the most capable helicopter pilots on the planet, often operating at night, at very low altitudes, and in tight terrain, which is increasingly urban in nature.

This terrible incident comes just three weeks after seven Marines and a Sailor drowned near the island while inside an AAV amphibious vehicle.

We will keep you updated as we find out more about this deadly incident. 

Author's note: Post updated to reflect 10 News' early scoop on the story.

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com