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Jessica S. Conkling
Captain, United States Marine Corps
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7 May 2009:

Marine officials have released the names of two Camp Pendleton-based pilots who died in the crash of an AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter late Tuesday in the Cleveland National Forest.

Captain Jessica Conkling and First Lieutenant Aaron Cox were members of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 267, the Marine Corps said Wednesday afternoon. They had been reassigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 in preparation for an upcoming deployment.

Conkling, 27, of Centre, Pennsylvania, was commissioned December 10, 2004. She deployed last year in the western Pacific Ocean aboard the Japan-based amphibious assault ship Essex.

Cox, 26, of Pulaski, Arkansas, joined the Marine Corps on May 27, 2005, and became a First Lieutenant exactly two years later.

The pilots were participating in a night training exercise when the Super Cobra crashed about six miles east of Pine Valley. The cause of the accident is under investigation.

The Super Cobra was from the 3rd Marine Air Wing at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station. It took off from El Centro Naval Air Station about 30 to 40 minutes before the crash, officials said, and was flying with at least one other aircraft when it went down.

Firefighters and ordnance experts couldn't enter the crash site Wednesday due to fear of explosions from the rockets the helicopter carried. It wasn't clear whether they were able to gain access by Thursday afternoon.

The aircraft went down at 11:45 p.m. Tuesday night about two miles north of Interstate 8 near Kitchen Creek Road, off a road accessible only by four-wheel-drive vehicles.

A caller reported hearing a large explosion and saw a fire, said U.S. Forest Service Battalion Chief Brian Rhodes. The man told officials he heard a second large explosion about 30 minutes later.

People as far as seven miles away also reported hearing the blasts, Rhodes said. When firefighters arrived, they saw a military helicopter circling. About the same time, they received a call from the military that said an aircraft was missing, Rhodes said.


State College, Pennsylvania: 9 May 2009

Jessica S. Conkling, a State College Area High School graduate who was a Captain in the Marine Corps, died shortly before midnight Tuesday (5 May 2009) when the helicopter she was in crashed in a remote section of a Southern California forest.

JS Conkling PHOTO

Conkling, 27, and First Lieutenant Aaron D. Cox, 26, were piloting the AH-1W Super Cobra as part of a nighttime training exercise when the aircraft went down in the Cleveland National Forest in eastern San Diego County, according to the Marine Corps. They were the only two people on board.

Major Jay Delarosa said the pilots were part of an air-combat unit that was preparing to go overseas. The AH-1W is a two-seat, twin-engine attack helicopter that can be armed with cannons, rockets and guided missiles.

The crash set off a one- to two-acre fire.

Conkling was the daughter of Thomas and Sara Conkling, of Patton Township, Pennsylvania. She is also survived by her sister, Amy Bennett, and her brother, Thomas. Conkling graduated from State College Area High School in 1999. She earned a bachelorís degree in hotel, restaurant and institutional management from Penn State in December 2001. She also attended Penn State as a nondegree graduate student in spring 2004.

In December 2004, she graduated from Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia, and was commissioned in the Marine Corps. She achieved the rank of captain on January 1, 2009. Her decorations include a Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and a National Defense Service Medal.

She recently returned from a 7-month deployment in Okinawa, Japan, Bennett said, and was preparing for another deployment to an as-yet unspecified location.

Services have not yet been finalized. Conkling will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Bennett said.

Cox was a native of Pulaski, Arkansas.

The pilots were originally from Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 267, Marine Aircraft Group 39, Camp Pendleton, and were assigned to fly with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 as they prepared for deployment.

According to the Marine Corps, the cause of the crash is under investigation.

  JS Conkling USMC Photo 9-28-08
Brigadier General Raymond C. Fox, Commanding General, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, speaks with First Lieutenant Jessica Conkling, an AH-1W Super Cobra pilot with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 262 (Reinforced), about the challenges of deploying aboard ship as he visits the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) Sept 29. Fox thanked the Marines and sailors for their dedicated service and professionalism while talking with the 31st MEU's Aviation Combat Element about the operations HMM-262 (REIN) is responsible for during the MEUís fall deployment. Fox served with HMM-262 (REIN) in 1980 and completed multiple deployments throughout the Western-Pacific region. (Official Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Jason Spinella) 

NOTE: Captain Conkling was buried with full military honors at Arlington Nattional Cemetery on Friday, 22 May 2009.

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Posted: 27 May 2009