Ships and helicopters from the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard were sweeping an area off the coast of San Diego on Friday for any signs of seven Marines and a sailor who were aboard a Marine amphibious assault vehicle when it sank in a deadly training accident the day before.
Fifteen Marines and a sailor, assigned to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, had wrapped up a training exercise on San Clemente Island about 5:30 p.m. Thursday when they boarded the 26-ton amphibious assault vehicle for the trip back to their ship, part of the USS Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group.
The vehicle, known as an AAV, was more than 1,000 meters off the coast of San Clemente when they reported taking on water, Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said during a press conference late Friday afternoon.
“The water drops off very quickly. The AAV is in several hundred feet of water,” Lt. Gen. Osterman said.
It plunged beneath the surface in full view of other amphibious assault vehicles also returning to the ship following the exercise.
“The other units were literally right there with it,” Lt. Gen. Osterman said. “It sank completely and went all the way to the bottom.”
Marine Corps officials said eight personnel managed to escape from the sinking armored vehicle. One was later pronounced dead at a local hospital while two others were still there with one listed in critical.
“We are deeply saddened by this tragic incident,” Col. Christopher Bronzi, commander of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, said in a statement. “I ask that you keep our Marines, sailors and their families in your prayers as we continue our search.”
The amphibious vehicle was not overloaded at the time, Lt. Gen. Osterman said. It can carry more than 20 troops and their gear.
The Marine Corps operates more than 800 AAVs and while they are often more than 25 years old, the vehicles are frequently upgraded, officials said.
Gen. David Berger, commandant of the Marine Corps, said they were going to temporarily suspend waterborne operations where the AAVs are being used.
“We’ll wait until we have a better picture of what caused this,” he said.
An investigation into what happened has begun even as the search and rescue effort continues for the missing troops. Marine Corps officials on Friday had not released any identities.
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