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Marine Corps identifies 7 killed in helicopter collision

By the CNN Wire Staff
February 25, 2012 -- Updated 0416 GMT (1216 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Six of the Marines killed belonged to a Camp Pendleton-based squadron, the Corps says
  • One Marine was assigned to a Yuma-based squadron, the Corps says
  • The cause of the accident remains under investigation, Marines says
  • The Marines were preparing to deploy to Afghanistan, the Corps says

(CNN) -- The U.S. Marine Corps on Friday identified the seven killed in a midair collision of two of its helicopters this week along the Arizona-California border.

The Marines, who were preparing to deploy to Afghanistan, were killed Wednesday in a collision between an AH-1W Super Cobra attack helicopter and a UH-1Y Huey utility helicopter.

The Marines were identified as:

_Maj. Thomas A. Budrejko, 37, of Montville, Connecticut. He was commissioned as an officer by the Marine Corps on May 24, 1996, and served as an AH-1W Cobra pilot and executive officer of attack squadron 469.

_Capt. Michael M. Quin, 28, of Purcellville, Virginia. He was commissioned as an officer by on May 26, 2006, and served as a UH-1Y Huey pilot.

_Capt. Benjamin N. Cerniglia, 31, of Montgomery, Alabama. He was commissioned as an officer on December 14, 2007, and served as an AH-1W Cobra pilot.

_Sgt. Justin A. Everett, 33, of Clovis, California. He enlisted in the Marine Corps on February 19, 2002, and served as a helicopter crew chief aboard a UH-1Y Huey.

_Lance Cpl. Corey A. Little, 25, of Marietta, Georgia. He enlisted on March 30, 2009, and served as a helicopter crew chief aboard a UH-1Y Huey.

_Lance Cpl. Nickoulas H. Elliott, 21, of Spokane, Washington. He on May 4, 2009, and served as a helicopter crew chief aboard a UH-1Y Huey.

_Capt. Nathan W. Anderson, 32, of Amarillo, Texas. He was commissioned as an officer on December 20, 2002, and served as a UH-1Y Huey pilot.

Anderson was assigned to Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron One at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona, while the other six were assigned to the Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469, Marine Aircraft Group 39, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Camp Pendleton, California, the Marine Corps said in a statement.

"Every single one of these Marines impacted our squadron in their own special way and the entire Marine Corps aviation community is feeling their tragic loss," said Lt. Col. Stephen Lightfoot, commanding officer of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469.

The cause of the collision, which occurred during routine training operations, remains under investigation, the Marines said.

The crash occurred Wednesday night around 10:30 p.m. ET in the Chocolate Mountains on the California side of the range, near Yuma, according to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma Base Commander Col. Robert Kuckuk.

While weather did not appear to play a factor, visibility may have been severely limited by nightfall and a significant amount of dust, referred to as a "brown out," created by the helicopters landing and taking off, Gunnery Sgt. Dustin Dunk, a spokesperson for Air Station Yuma, has previously said.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation, said 1st Lt. Maureen Dooley, a Marine Corps spokeswoman, said.

The military has long used the AH-1W and UH-1 Huey for a variety of tasks. The military describes the AH-1W as "the backbone of the United States Marine Corps' attack helicopter fleet." The UH-1Y is a twin-engine, medium-size helicopter.

CNN's Tina Burnside contributed to this report.

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