Iran mostly likely brought down Ukraine airliner with anti-aircraft missiles: U.S. officials

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Ukraine airliner that crashed in Iran, killing all 176 people aboard, was most likely brought down accidentally by Iranian anti-aircraft missiles, U.S. officials said on Thursday.

According to satellite data, one U.S. official said, the Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737-800 bound for Kiev was airborne for two minutes after departing Tehran when the heat signatures of two surface-to-air missiles were detected.

That was quickly followed by an explosion in the vicinity of the plane, the official said. Heat signature data then showed the plane on fire as it went down.

Iran’s head of civil aviation was quoted by ISNA News Agency as saying that it was “impossible that a missile hit the Ukrainian plane.”

Two U.S. officials said Washington believed the downing of the plane, which occurred at a time of rising tensions between Iran and the United States, was accidental.

An Iranian report on Thursday cited witnesses on the ground and in a passing aircraft flying at a high altitude as saying the plane was on fire while in the air.

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday the deadly crash could have been a mistake and he did not believe it was a mechanical issue.

Boeing and the Federal Aviation Administration declined to comment on Thursday, as did the Pentagon.

Boeing is still reeling from two deadly crashes of 737 MAX planes in five months that led to the plane’s grounding in March 2019. The 737-800 that crashed was built in 2016 and is the prior generation of the 737 before the MAX. Boeing has built about 5,000 of those planes, which has a good safety record.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball, David Shepardson, Jonathan Landay and Phil Stewart; Writing by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Ross Colvin and Sonya Hepinstall)

UK prosecutors to charge U.S. diplomat’s wife over fatal car crash

By Andrew MacAskill

LONDON (Reuters) – British prosecutors said on Friday they had decided to charge the wife of a U.S. diplomat over a fatal car crash in England and to seek her extradition, a decision that “disappointed” Washington.

Harry Dunn, 19, died after his motorcycle was in a collision with a car driven by Anne Sacoolas near RAF Croughton, an air force base in the English county of Northamptonshire that is used by the U.S. military.

Sacoolas, 42, was given diplomatic immunity and left Britain shortly after the accident, setting off a dispute between London and Washington over whether she should return to face investigation.

She said she would not return voluntarily to face a potential jail sentence.

Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said on Friday it would charge Sacoolas with causing death by dangerous driving and had started legal proceedings.

But it said it was up to the Home Office (interior ministry) to decide whether to seek Sacoolas’ extradition formally through diplomatic channels.

British foreign minister Dominic Raab welcomed the charging decision, adding in a statement: “I hope that Anne Sacoolas will now realize the right thing to do is to come back to the UK and cooperate with the criminal justice process.”

The U.S. State department expressed disappointment.

“We are disappointed by today’s announcement and fear that it will not bring a resolution closer,” a State Department spokesperson said.

“The United States has been clear that, at the time the accident occurred, and for the duration of her stay in the UK, the driver in this case had status that conferred diplomatic immunities.”

Sacoolas’ lawyer Amy Jeffress said her would not be going back to Britain to face trial.

“Anne will not return voluntarily to the United Kingdom to face a potential jail sentence for what was a terrible but unintentional accident,” Jeffress said in a statement.

‘BEAUTIFUL’ BUT ‘SAD’

Dunn’s case gained international prominence when his parents met U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in October, an occasion he described as “beautiful” but “sad”.

Trump hoped to persuade them meet Sacoolas, who was in the building at the same time, but they declined.

Sacoolas initially cooperated with local police after the crash, but later said she had diplomatic immunity.

The White House and the U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The maximum jail sentence in Britain for causing death by dangerous driving is 14 years.

Dunn’s mother, Charlotte Charles, broke down in tears after finding out charges had been brought, saying it meant she had kept a promise to her son to get him justice.

“We had no idea it was going to be this hard and it would take this long, but we really do feel it is a huge step towards that promise to Harry,” she told reporters.

Edward Grange, a partner at the criminal law firm Corker Binning, said Sacoolas could voluntarily attend a hearing in Britain and that if she failed to appear, it could lead to an extradition request.

“The prospect of an extradition request succeeding remains to be seen, particularly in light of comment from the Trump Administration that it is very reluctant to allow its citizens to be tried abroad,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Michael Holden and Sarah Young; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Trump says U.S. not involved in Iran satellite launch failure

FILE PHOTO: A satellite image shows what U.S. officials say is the failed Iranian rocket launch at the Imam Khomeini Space Center in northern Iran August 29, 2019. Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday that the United States was not involved with a failed Iranian rocket launch, and he wished Tehran luck at finding out what went wrong.

“The United States of America was not involved in the catastrophic accident during final launch preparations for the Safir SLV Launch at Semnan Launch Site One in Iran,” Trump said on Twitter.

The rocket exploded on its launch pad at a space center in northern Iran on Thursday, an Iranian official said. A U.S. official also said Iran suffered a satellite launch failure.

The United States has warned Iran against rocket launches, fearful the technology used to put satellites into orbit could enable Tehran to develop the ballistic missile capability needed to launch nuclear warheads.

Tehran denies the U.S. accusation that such activity is a cover for ballistic missile development.

The Trump administration has ratcheted up economic pressure on Iran with a series of economic sanctions to try to force it to renegotiate a pact reached with world powers in 2015 limiting its nuclear program.

Trump has offered to hold talks with Iran but Tehran says first it must get relief from U.S. sanctions.

(Reporting by Tim Ahmann; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)

Russia finds radioactive isotopes in test samples after accident

FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting in Moscow, August 22, 2019. Alexander Zemlianichenko/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

By Maria Kiselyova and Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s state weather agency said on Monday it had found the radioactive isotopes of strontium, barium and lanthanum in test samples after a mysterious accident during a test at a military site earlier this month.

The deadly accident on Aug. 8 caused a brief rise in radiation levels in the nearby city of Severodvinsk. President Vladimir Putin later said the mishap occurred during testing of what he called promising new weapons systems.

A cloud of inert radioactive gases formed as a result of a decay of the isotopes and caused the brief spike in radiation in Severodvinsk, the weather agency said in a statement.

The isotopes were Strontium-91, Barium-139, Barium-140 and Lanthanum-140, which have half-lives of 9.3 hours, 83 minutes, 12.8 days and 40 hours respectively, it said.

Russia’s state nuclear agency has said five of its staff members were killed and three injured in a blast during a rocket test on a sea platform that involved “isotope power sources”.

U.S.-based nuclear experts suspect the incident occurred during tests of a nuclear-powered cruise missile.

Norway’s nuclear test-ban monitor said on Friday that the explosion that killed the scientists was followed by a second blast two hours later and that this was the likely source of a spike in radiation.

The second explosion was probably from an airborne rocket powered by radioactive fuel, the Norsar agency said – though the governor of Russia’s Arkhangelsk region, where the blast took place, dismissed reports of another blast.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Rape accuser of Indian ruling party lawmaker battles for life after accident

People hold their mobile phone torches as they take part in a protest demanding investigation in a highway collision in which a woman who is fighting a rape case against a legislator of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was critically injured, in New Delhi, India, July 29, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian police were investigating on Monday a highway collision that critically injured a woman who had accused a legislator of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of rape, a police officer said.

The case against the lawmaker in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh has been an embarrassment for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP since 2018, after the woman tried to kill herself, saying police had refused to register her complaint.

The woman and her lawyer were in hospital battling for their lives after a truck on Sunday hit a car in which they were traveling, killing the woman’s two aunts, who were also in the car, police official Rajeev Krishna said.

“Our inquiry is going on and we will look into the family’s allegations,” Krishna, the additional director-general of police, told reporters in Lucknow, the state capital.

One of the aunts was a witness in the rape case, which has cast a spotlight on lawlessness in the northern state, whose chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, a member of the BJP, has often touted his government’s record on cracking down on crime.

The accused legislator, Kuldeep Singh Sengar, who has been in jail since last year, has denied the accusation of rape.

His lawyer, Awadhesh Singh, said the case was a conspiracy to harm his political career.

“It’s just an accident,” he told Reuters on Monday, referring to the car crash.

However, police have lodged a case of murder against Sengar, based on the family’s complaint that he was involved in causing the crash, according to a copy of the report seen by Reuters.

The woman’s family said it feared for its safety, with her mother calling the crash a conspiracy by Sengar, who wanted the rape case against him withdrawn.

“This is not an accident,” the mother told reporters at the hospital, adding that the family had faced threats over the rape case.

“One by one, all the witnesses are being eliminated. We’re afraid for our lives,” said the mother, whose husband died while in police custody last year.

Police have arrested the driver and owner of the truck.

(Reporting by Zeba Siddiqui in NEW DELHI; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Clarence Fernandez)

Atop Manhattan skyscraper, investigators probe deadly helicopter crash

FILE PHOTO: A view of 787 7th Avenue in midtown Manhattan where a helicopter was reported to have crashed in New York City, New York, U.S., June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were sifting through the wreckage of a helicopter atop a Manhattan skyscraper on Tuesday as they sought to determine why the aircraft crashed on the roof a day earlier, killing the pilot.

Tim McCormack, the pilot, was the only person aboard when he crashed onto the roof of 787 Seventh Avenue with enough force to jolt workers at the finance and law firms inside the 50-floor tower in midtown Manhattan.

Emergency vehicles are seen outside 787 7th Avenue in midtown Manhattan where a helicopter crashed in New York City, New York, U.S., June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Emergency vehicles are seen outside 787 7th Avenue in midtown Manhattan where a helicopter crashed in New York City, New York, U.S., June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Police and other officials believe it was an accident, but have yet to say why McCormack was flying over one of the country’s densest urban districts through rain and low clouds on Monday afternoon.

The crash stirred memories of the Sept. 11 attacks and sparked renewed calls for tightening restrictions for New York City’s airspace. U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney, who represents parts of Manhattan, said she wanted all “nonessential” flights banned.

McCormack was an experienced pilot who had taken off from a heliport on Manhattan’s east side to head to Linden Airport in New Jersey, according to Paul Dudley, the airport’s director.

He would have needed clearance from the air traffic control tower at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport to fly over that part of Manhattan, but it was unclear if that happened, Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters on Monday.

The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, the state agency that manages the airport, did not respond to questions about the incident on Tuesday.

The Federal Aviation Administration said on Monday that controllers “did not handle” the flight, but it remained unclear whether there was any communication at all between the helicopter and air traffic authorities.

A spokesman for the NTSB, a federal agency that determines the causes of major transportation accidents, did not respond to questions on Tuesday about the status of the investigation.

The crash site is less than a half mile (0.8 km) from Trump Tower, where U.S. President Donald Trump maintains an apartment. The area has been under extra-tight flight restrictions since Trump’s election in 2016.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Berkrot)

No sign of arson in Notre-Dame blaze as nation grieves for symbol

By Richard Lough and Elizabeth Pineau

PARIS (Reuters) – The fire that tore through Notre-Dame cathedral was probably caused by accident, French prosecutors said on Tuesday after firefighters doused the last flames in the ruins overnight and the nation grieved for the destruction of one of its symbols.

Smoke billows as fire engulfs the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Smoke billows as fire engulfs the spire of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

More than 400 firemen were needed to tame the inferno that consumed the roof and collapsed the spire of the eight-centuries-old cathedral. They worked through the night to extinguish the fire some 14 hours after it began.

Paris public prosecutor Remy Heitz said there was no obvious indication the fire was arson. Fifty people were working on what would be a long and complex investigation. One firefighter was injured but no one else was hurt in the blaze which began after the building was closed to the public for the evening.

Firefighters work at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 16, 2019. A massive fire consumed the cathedral on Monday, gutting its roof and stunning France and the world. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Firefighters work at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, France April 16, 2019. A massive fire consumed the cathedral on Monday, gutting its roof and stunning France and the world. REUTERS/Yves Herman

From the outside, the imposing bell towers and outer walls, with their vast flying buttresses, still stood firm, but the insides and the upper structure were eviscerated by the blaze.

Firefighters examined the gothic facade and could be seen walking atop the belfries as police kept the area in lockdown.

Investigators will not be able to enter the cathedral’s blackened nave until experts are satisfied its stone walls withstood the heat and the building is structurally sound.

The fire swiftly ripped through the cathedral’s timbered roof supports, where workmen had been carrying out extensive renovations to the spire’s wooden frame.

The Paris prosecutor has opened an investigation into “involuntary destruction by fire”. Police on Tuesday began questioning the workers involved in the restoration, the prosecutor’s office said.

View of Notre-Dame Cathedral after a fire devastated large parts of the gothic gem in Paris, France April 16, 2019. A massive fire consumed the cathedral on Monday, gutting its roof and stunning France and the world. REUTERS/Yves Herman

View of Notre-Dame Cathedral after a fire devastated large parts of the gothic gem in Paris, France April 16, 2019. A massive fire consumed the cathedral on Monday, gutting its roof and stunning France and the world. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Hundreds of stunned onlookers had lined the banks of the Seine river late into the night as the fire raged, reciting prayers and singing liturgical music in harmony as they stood in vigil.

“Yesterday we thought the whole cathedral would collapse. Yet this morning she is still standing, valiant, despite everything. It is a sign of hope,” said Sister Marie Aimee, a nun who had hurried to a nearby church to pray as the fire spread.

It was at Notre-Dame that Napoleon was made emperor in 1804, Pope Pius X beatified Joan of Arc in 1909 and former presidents Charles de Gaulle and Francois Mitterrand were mourned.

Messages of condolence flooded in from around the world.

Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church, was praying for those affected, the Vatican said, adding: “Notre-Dame will always remain – and we have seen this in these hours – a place where believers and non-believers can come together in the most dramatic moments of French history.”

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth expressed deep sadness while her son and heir Prince Charles said he was “utterly heartbroken”.

View of Notre-Dame Cathedral after a fire devastated large parts of the gothic gem in Paris, France, April 16, 2019. A massive fire consumed the cathedral on Monday, gutting its roof and stunning France and the world. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

View of Notre-Dame Cathedral after a fire devastated large parts of the gothic gem in Paris, France, April 16, 2019. A massive fire consumed the cathedral on Monday, gutting its roof and stunning France and the world. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

VOW TO REBUILD

President Emmanuel Macron promised to rebuild Notre-Dame, considered among the finest examples of European Gothic architecture, visited by more than 13 million people a year.

Notre-Dame is owned by the state. It has been at the center of a years-long row between the nation and the Paris archdiocese over who should finance badly needed restoration work to collapsed balustrades, crumbling gargoyles and cracked facades.

It was too early to estimate the cost of the damage, said the heritage charity Fondation du Patrimoine, but it is likely to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The rival billionaire owners of France’s two biggest luxury fashion empires, Francois-Henri Pinault of Kering and Bernard Arnault of LVMH, pledged 100 million euros and 200 million euros to the restoration respectively. Oil company Total pledged 100 million. The city of Paris said it would provide 50 million.

Paolo Violini, a restoration specialist for Vatican museums, said the pace at which the fire spread through the cathedral had been stunning.

“We are used to thinking about them as eternal simply because they have been there for centuries, or a thousand years, but the reality is they are very fragile,” Violini said.

HUMAN CHAIN

The company carrying out the renovation works when the blaze broke out said it would cooperate fully with the investigation.

“All I can tell you is that at the moment the fire began none of my employees were on the site. We respected all procedures,” Julien Le Bras, a representative of family firm Le Bras Freres.

Officials breathed a sigh of relief that many relics and artworks had been saved. At one point, firefighters, policemen, and municipal workers formed a human chain to remove the treasures, including a centuries-old crown of thorns made from reeds and gold, and the tunic believed to have been worn by Saint Louis, the 13th-century king of France.

“Notre-Dame was our sister, it is so sad, we are all mourning,” said Parisian Olivier Lebib. “I have lived with her for 40 years. Thank God that the stone structure has withstood the fire.”

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Inti Landauro, Richard Lough, Sarah White, Emmanuel Jarry and Luke Baker in Paris; Additional reporting by Philip Pullela; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Leigh Thomas, Raissa Kasolowsky and Peter Graff)

Families of Missouri ‘duck boat’ sinking victims sue tour company

Rescue personnel work after an amphibious "duck boat" capsized and sank, at Table Rock Lake near Branson, Stone County, Missouri, U.S. July 19, 2018 in this still image obtained from a video on social media. SOUTHERN STONE COUNTY FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT/Facebook/via REUTERS

By Diana Kruzman

(Reuters) – The families of four of the 17 people killed when a World War Two-style tourist “duck boat” sank on a Missouri lake during a storm this month have sued the tour operator, saying it recklessly allowed the vessel out in dangerous weather.

On Sunday, relatives of Ervin Coleman, 76, and 2-year-old Maxwell Ly, his great-nephew, both of Indianapolis, sued tour operator Ripley Entertainment Inc, which operates under the name Ride the Ducks, and vessel manufacturer Amphibious Vehicle Manufacturing LLC, a Ripley unit, alleging they “recklessly risked the lives of its passengers for purely financial reasons.”

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Kansas City, Missouri, seeks $100 million in damages.

A separate lawsuit filed on Monday in Taney County, Missouri, on behalf of the children of William and Janice Bright names Ripley Entertainment, Ride the Ducks and the two operators of the boat, and seeks at least $25,000 in damages.

Ripley Entertainment declined comment on the lawsuits, but said it was “deeply saddened” by the incident.

There were 31 passengers aboard the duck boat on Table Rock Lake, outside Branson, Missouri, on July 19 when hurricane-strength winds churned up the water and sank the craft, causing one of the deadliest U.S. tourist tragedies in recent years.

The boats, modeled on the amphibious landing craft used in the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944, have a checkered history involving more than three dozen fatalities on water and land, including the Branson sinking, according to the complaint.

“This tragedy was the predictable and predicted result of decades of unacceptable, greed-driven, and willful ignorance of safety by the Duck Boat industry in the face of specific and repeated warnings that their Duck Boats are death traps for passengers,” the federal complaint said.

Robert Mongeluzzi, an attorney for the families of Coleman and Ly, told a news conference on Monday: “The quest for justice includes doing everything within our power to ban duck boats once and for all,” according to a statement.

Mongeluzzi represented the families of two people killed when a duck boat crashed into a barge and sank in Philadelphia in 2010, resulting in a $17 million settlement.

The federal suit alleges that Ride the Ducks endangered passengers by letting the boat out on the water after the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the area, and that passengers were not told to put on life jackets. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the accident.

A duck boat sank in Arkansas in 1999, killing 13 people and prompting the NTSB to recommend changes to duck boats’ design to make them less prone to capsizing. The federal lawsuit alleges that Ride the Ducks ignored those warnings because of cost.

(Reporting by Diana Kruzman in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)

Seventeen dead after Missouri tourist boat sinks in storm

By Brendan O’Brien and Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – Divers on Friday pulled the last four bodies from the wreckage of a “duck boat” that sank in a storm in a Missouri lake, killing 17 people in one of the deadliest U.S. tourist incidents in recent years.

The World War Two-style amphibious vehicle was filled with 31 passengers including children when a microburst storm hit Table Rock Lake outside the tourist city of Branson, Missouri, on Thursday. A video of the incident showed it battered by waves.

Wendy Doucey, an office manager at the Stone County sheriff’s office, said that divers had recovered the four bodies from the sunken duck boat. The vehicle was 80 feet (24 m) underwater.

“It’s important that we find out for sure what events did occur,” Governor Michael Parson said at a Friday morning news conference. “Today it’s just still early.”

The incident began around 7 p.m. (0000 GMT) on Thursday after thunderstorms rolled through the area when two duck boats were out on the lake, officials said. Both headed back to shore but only one made it.

“From what I understand there were life jackets in the duck,” Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader told the press conference. He declined to answer questions about whether passengers on the duck had been wearing them at the time.

The National Transportation Safety Board and U.S. Coast Guard are investigating, officials said. Rader noted that the boat’s captain survived the sinking but the driver did not.

Officials did not comment on the identities or ages of the other people who drowned.

Rescue personnel are seen after an amphibious "duck boat" capsized and sank, at Table Rock Lake near Branson, Stone County, Missouri, U.S. July 19, 2018 in this still image obtained from a video on social media. SOUTHERN STONE COUNTY FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT/Facebook/via REUTERS

Rescue personnel are seen after an amphibious “duck boat” capsized and sank, at Table Rock Lake near Branson, Stone County, Missouri, U.S. July 19, 2018 in this still image obtained from a video on social media. SOUTHERN STONE COUNTY FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT/Facebook/via REUTERS

‘NOTHING YOU COULD DO’

Jennie Carr witnessed the last moments of the tourist duck boat while on a lake cruise aboard the Showboat Branson Belle.

“The one that sunk, it was having trouble. You could tell that it couldn’t go very fast. He kept sinking down in the water a little bit. The waves went over the top of it,” Carr told NBC’s “Today” show. “There wasn’t really nothing you could do.”

Carr could not be reached for further comment.

The company that owned the duck boat, Ripley Entertainment, said that it was working with families of the victims.

“Our number one priority is the families and our employees that were affected by this tragic accident,” spokeswoman Suzanne Smagala-Potts said Thursday.

Table Rock Lake is a 67-square-mile (174 sq km) reservoir containing water impounded by the Table Rock Dam on the White River.

Duck vehicles, used on sightseeing tours around the world, have been involved in a number of fatal accidents on land and in the water in the past two decades.

Thirteen people died in 1999 when the duck boat they were riding near Hot Springs, Arkansas, sank suddenly.

The company that builds ducks, Ride the Ducks International LLC, agreed in 2016 to pay a $1 million fine after one of the vehicles, which operate on land as well as water, collided with a bus in Seattle, killing five international students.

The company admitted to failing to comply with U.S. vehicle manufacturing rules.

Two tourists died in Philadelphia in 2010 when the duck boat they were riding in was struck by a tugboat in the Delaware River.

Branson, in southwestern Missouri, is a family-friendly tourist destination whose attractions include “Dolly Parton’s Stampede” dinner theater, the Amazing Acrobats of Shanghai and a Titanic museum with a model of the sunken vessel’s front half.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg and Gina Cherelus in New York and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas, Writing by Scott Malone; Editing Bernadette Baum and Steve Orlofsky)

Four Marine helicopter crew presumed dead after California crash

FILE PHOTO: A United States Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion Helicopter sits at North Island Naval Air Station Coronado, California, April 12, 2015. REUTERS/Louis Nastro/File Photo

(Reuters) – A U.S. Marine helicopter crashed during a training mission in southern California Tuesday afternoon and all four crew members are believed to have died, a Marine spokeswoman announced.

No details about the nature of the training mission were released other than it was routine and held in the desert in El Centro, Ca., about 100 miles east of San Diego.

The helicopter was a Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing based at the Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, Ca., according to a statement from the Marines.

It is the largest and heaviest “heavy-lift” helicopter in the U.S. military.

The accident is under investigation and no other information was available.

The wreck is the deadliest Marine accident since a cargo plane crash in the Mississippi Delta that killed 16 Marines in July, 2017.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; editing by Jason Neely)