YUMA, Ariz.–A Marine Corps search and rescue squadron in southwest Arizona will disband amid safety concerns, military officials said.
Capt. Gabriel Adibe confirmed that the air station’s squadron of four twin-engine military helicopters is officially being decommissioned in March, Yuma Sun reported. The squadron is the last of its kind in the Marine Corps.
The decision marks the end of decades-long military-aided rescue operations in the Yuma area, including search and rescue for missing hikers and boaters, authorities said.
The squadron was scheduled to be decommissioned in June, but worsening conditions have advanced the timeline.
The helicopters have become too difficult and costly for the Marine Corps to maintain, Adibe said, adding that some have been in operation since the 1970s.
The Marine Corps believes that it is no longer able to ensure the safety of the Marines who fly the aircraft or anyone who would potentially need to be rescued. Search and rescue operations have also been phased out and are no longer a primary function of the Marine Corps.
“This is a capability that the Marine Corps does not intend to go forward with,” Adibe said. “The Marine Corps does not plan to replace the aircraft.”
Community leaders and residents have expressed concerns, because there is nothing set up locally to replace the squadron’s services.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety has offered its assistance with its own fleet of helicopters capable of providing similar rescue services, Yuma County sheriff’s Lt. Sam Pavlak said. The department has recently assisted with local rescues recently, but none of the helicopters used are based in Yuma, he said.
A helicopter from the squadron is expected to take to the sky for the last time at the Yuma Air Show next month.