US Marine amphibious assault vehicle accident claims eight lives
After an US Marine amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) sank with 16 crew members inside during training on Thursday, 30 July 2020, off the Southern California coast in the US, the Marine Corps announced that the eight missing service members are now presumed dead. Eight Marines on board were rescued. One of those died soon after being hospitalised and two are in critical condition. The eight now presumed dead are seven Marines and one Navy sailor. The 26-ton vehicle started sinking around 17h45 on Thursday when water started to get in. A Marine Corps representative said that after conducting a 40-hour search in coordination with the Navy and the Coast Guard, leadership “determined that there was little probability of a successful rescue given the circumstances of the incident.” The vehicle sank into several hundred feet of water between 0,6 and 1,2 miles off San Clemente Island's beach, a Navy-owned training area and was within the sight of other AAVs. Commandant of the Marine Corps, General David Berger, said the search ended because “all resources were exhausted.” Lt Gen Joseph L Osterman, the commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force, reported that the Marine Corps will suspend all waterborne amphibious assault vehicle training until they find the cause of the accident. Only two AAVs have completely sunk in the past 25 years, Osterman added.
All the Marines involved were assigned to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based in Camp Pendleton. Each of the service members was 23 or younger.
“I know all of us in the USMC family are extremely saddened following the announcement of the end of [search-and-rescue] operations,” said Gen Berger. “This difficult decision was made after all resources were exhausted. Our prayers continue to be with the family and friends of the 8 Marines and one Sailor we lost.” The Marine Corps said in a statement that the service members presumed dead are Pfc Bryan J Baltierra age 18 of Corona, California; Lance Cpl Marco A Barranco age 21 of Montebello, California; Pfc Evan A Bath age 19 of Oak Creek, Wisconsin; Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem age 22 of Stockton, California; Pfc Jack Ryan Ostrovsky age 21 of Bend, Oregon; Cpl Wesley A Rodd age 23 of Harris, Texas; Lance Cpl Chase D Sweetwood age 19 of Portland, Oregon and Cpl Cesar A Villanueva age 21 of Riverside, California.
Another Marine, Lance Cpl Guillermo S Perez age 20 of New Braunfels, Texas, was recovered last week and pronounced dead. His body was then taken by helicopter to San Diego’s Scripps Memorial Hospital.
Seven other Marines were recovered alive. Five have returned to their unit and two remained hospitalised. One is in critical condition and the other has since been upgraded to stable condition, the Marine Corps said.
The vehicle, designed to carry infantrymen both at sea and on shore, has been in use since the 1970s. Lt Gen Osterman, said that the Marines had just completed a training exercise on San Clemente Island and were returning to their ship when the trouble began. The service believes the vehicle is under a few hundred feet of water, complicating recovery efforts.
Marines have said over the years that the vehicles have become increasingly difficult to use and maintain but they remained after the service attempted to field a replacement, the expeditionary fighting vehicle but scrapped it in 2011 after $3 billion in development because of testing failures and rising costs. Another AAV sank off the coast of California in 2011, killing one Marine. The service is now attempting to field another AAV replacement known as the amphibious combat vehicle.
US Defence Secretary Mark T Esper offered condolences in a statement. “Their service, commitment and courage will always be remembered by the nation they served,” Esper said. “While the incident remains under investigation, I want to assure our service members and their families that we are committed to gathering all the facts, understanding exactly how this incident occurred, and preventing similar tragedies in the future.”
The incident marks the deadliest at sea for the Marine Corps since 12 service members died when two CH-53E helicopter collided off the coast of Hawaii on 14 January 2016, spawning a multiday search for survivors.
Sources: Marine Corps Times, NPR