A marine died, two service members were injured and eight others were missing and later reportedly killed after an accident involving an amphibious assault vehicle on the southern California coast on Thursday, officials said.
Search and rescue efforts to find missing people – seven Marines and a sailor who were on board the vehicle when it sank – were suspended Saturday night, the Navy’s First Expeditionary Force said, with service members now reportedly dead. They were assigned to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit at Camp Pendleton in San Diego area. Efforts are now turning to recover his remains, said the Navy's First Expeditionary Force.
The Marine who died, whose name has not been released, was pronounced dead at Scripps La Jolla Memorial Hospital, a press release from the maritime unit said. Both injured Marines were in stable condition, Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Osterman, commander-in-chief of the I Marine Expeditionary Force, told a news conference on Friday afternoon.
There were 15 marines and a sailor inside the amphibious vehicle, the forces said. According to the press release, the Marines on board the vehicle reported drinking water at around 5:45 pm. On thursday.
At the time of the accident, the vehicle was traveling from the island of San Clemente back to a ship to more than 1,000 meters from the coast, said Gen. David H. Berger, commander of the Marine Corps, told a news conference.
Next two amphibious assault vehicles witnessed the accident and were able to pinpoint its exact location, the general said Berger.
"The adjacent A.A.V saw the fall and, with 26 tonnes, the assumption is that it has sunk to the bottom," said Lt. Gen. Osterman.
Officials said it was not clear how the accident happened. The Navy and Coast Guard were assisting in the search for missing service members, the forces said, and A.A.V. water operations have been suspended while the Marine Corps investigates the accident.
The depth of the water quickly drops around the island, so the vehicle was several hundred meters from the water when it sank, said Lt. Gen. Osterman. When the vehicle left the coast, conditions were acceptable for travel, he said.
General Osterman estimated that the oldest person on board the vehicle was about 30 and the youngest, 18. Those on board used combat equipment and flotation devices, he said.
There are about 800 amphibious attack vehicles in the Navy inventory, he said, each with a capacity of 21 people and a weight of 26 tons.
The A.A.V. they are slow, lightly armored and are considered by many Marines to be particularly vulnerable, especially during the conflict. As the Marines sought a replacement, the A.A.V. it remained a cornerstone in the Body's inventory, simply because of its amphibious capabilities. It is prone to leaks at sea, both from the rear ramp and from the troop compartment.
"It was with a heavy heart that I decided to complete the search and rescue effort," said Col. Christopher Bronzi, commander, in a declaration on Saturday. "The constant dedication of Marines, sailors and coast guards to the persistent rescue effort has been tremendous."
Camp Pendleton is home to the largest marine base on the west coast, and Marines practice beach attacks using amphibious troop vehicles.
Marines have been using vehicles to transport troops from sea and land since the 1970s. In 2017, 15 marines were injured when an amphibious vehicle was training in flames at Camp Pendleton.
Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed reporting.