Two helicopter mechanics serving in an elite nighttime special operations unit died and three others were injured when their Black Hawk helicopter crashed in what has been described as an accident late on Thursday, the United States military said.
Staff Sgt. Vincent P. Marketta, 33, of Brick, New Jersey, and Sgt. Tyler M. Shelton, 22, of San Bernardino, California, were killed late on Thursday in an aviation mishap just off the coast of San Diego, according to the Army.
The names of the injured soldiers have not been released.
A Pentagon official told The San Diego Union Tribune that the accident was part of ‘routine training’ on San Clemente Island, which lies some 70 miles west of San Diego.
The island, which is controlled by the United States Navy and falls under the command of Naval Base Coronado, has an airfield, a bombing range, and a training facility for special operations units, including the SEALs.
‘The loss of Staff Sgt. Marketta and Sgt. Shelton has left a scar in this Regiment that will never completely heal,’ said Col. Andrew R. Graham, commander of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne).
‘Their level of dedication to the 160th SOAR (A) and their exemplary service in the Army is the embodiment of what it means to be a Night Stalker and a Soldier.’
In 2011, Marketta enlisted in the Army as a repairer for the 15T UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.
After completing advanced training, he was assigned to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne).
The 160th SOAR (A), known famously by their nickname Night Stalkers, provides helicopter aviation support for special operations forces that conduct nighttime missions.
In May 2011, the Night Stalkers provided cover to special forces involved in the raid that killed Osama bin-Laden, though it is not known if Marketta participated in this operation.
In 2012, Marketta completed an advanced training and assessment program in 2012.
He then spent 18 months as an aircraft repairer in 1st Battalion, 160th SOAR (A).
In 2014, Marketta became an MH-60M crew chief in the 1st Battalion.
That same year, he was deployed to Afghanistan to support Operation Enduring Freedom.
He was also sent to Iraq with his battalion in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.
Marketta was awarded several honors, including the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the Air Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and other commendations.
Shelton also enlisted in the Army in 2016 as a Black Hawk repairer. He went through the same training regimen that Marketta completed.
In 2018, Shelton was deployed as a crew chief to Afghanistan.
Shelton’s aunt, Kristen Ray, posted a video on her Facebook account showing a tribute to her late nephew.
With the Star Spangled Banner playing in the background, her 10-year-old son, Evan Ray, drove a race car around a track while Shelton’s brother, Hunter Shelton, held aloft an American flag.
‘I honestly have no words right now… I’m still in stock…,’ Kristen Ray told VVNG.com
This is the second fatal accident to claim the lives of soldiers during training operations on San Clemente Island in the last month.
Nine service members died after their amphibious assault vehicle sank in deep water during a training exercise on July 30.
Eight Marines and one sailor died in the accident. An investigation is ongoing.