Search Crews Find Sunken Military Amphibious Vehicle Off Calif. Coast with Human Remains Aboard
The discovery comes after eight service members were presumed dead and one was confirmed dead following a training accident
The missing sunken Marine amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) that experienced a deadly "mishap" during a routine training exercise has been located.
The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group positively identified the location of the AAV on Monday after it sank off the coast of San Clemente Island on Thursday, July 30, the I Marine Expeditionary Force announced on Tuesday.
The U.S. Navy's Undersea Rescue Command also confirmed that human remains were on board the craft, and they have "expedited the movement of assets to recover the remains of the Marines and Sailor, and raise the AAV."
"Undersea Rescue Command is humbled to have worked alongside the Navy, USMC, and Coast Guard to locate our Marine Corps and Navy brethren," said Cmdr. Josh Powers, CO of URC, in a statement. "Our sincerest prayers and sympathies remain with their families, friends and fellow Marines and Sailors."
Military officials confirmed the identities of the eight Marines and one sailor on Sunday, all of whom were killed in a training accident off the coast of Southern California. They were presumed dead as the search remained fruitless at the time.
The victims included 18-year-old Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra of Corona, Calif.; 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco of Montebello, Calif.; 19-year-old Pfc. Evan A. Bath of Oak Creek, Wisc.; 22-year-old US Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem of Stockton, Calif.; 21-year-old Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky of Bend, Oregon; 23-year-old Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd of Harris, Tx.; 19-year-old rifleman Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood of Portland, Oregon; and 21-year-old Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva of Riverside, Calif.
Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels, Texas, was also pronounced dead at the scene on Thursday, according to the press release. Perez was a rifleman with Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 1/4, officials said.
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Two other Marines who were injured in the accident were airlifted to Scripps Memorial Hospital.
Both were initially in critical condition, but officials revealed one of them, a Marine AAV crew member with Mechanized Co., BLT 1/4, has since been upgraded to stable condition, according to the press release.
A total of 15 Marines and one sailor were involved in Thursday's accident, which occurred inside an amphibious assault vehicle during a 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group routine training exercise near San Clemente Island.
According to the United States Naval Institution, the AAV has been the "primary infantry sea-to-land transport vehicle since the 1970s," and the Marines are currently testing its replacement.
Five Marines were rescued and brought aboard USS Somerset, while search and rescue efforts were launched with help from the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard to search for the eight missing service members.
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On Saturday, the MEU, MEF, and the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group announced they had concluded the extensive 40-hour search, which spanned more than 1,000 square nautical miles. The incident remains under investigation by officials, according to the press release.
Following news of the tragedy, some of the victims' loved ones spoke out about their heartbreak. Baltierra's mother, Evelyn, noted that her son died on the one-year anniversary of his Marine Corps enlistment. She added that he always dreamed of serving from the time he was a young boy, the Orange County Register reported.
"He was able to achieve his dream," she told the outlet, adding that he was always positive, and popular with everyone he met. "There were always lots of smiles and laughs with whomever he was with. As his parents, my husband and I always [worried] about his safety — but we had full confidence that he was going to be in good hands with the Marines."