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SEPTEMBER 2020

US Marine Corps Identifies Nine Dead After Amphibious Vehicle Training Mishap Off California Coast

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US Marine Corps Identifies Nine Dead After Amphibious Vehicle Training Mishap Off California Coast

US Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicles first entered into service in the 1970s

The Marine Corps has identified eight Marines and one sailor who died after their amphibious assault vehicle sank during a July 30 training exercise in the vicinity of San Clemente Island located in the Pacific off the Californian coast. The soldiers belonged to the First Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Pendleton in southern California.

Search and rescue efforts were initiated on Thursday, after a total of sixteen personnel were trapped inside an amphibious assault vehicle when it began taking on water and sank off the coast of San Clemente Island, California.

Among eight Marines rescued, one later died of injuries, with two more in critical condition (as of early Monday one of the injured was announced to be in a stable condition). On Sunday, following a massive search-and-rescue effort involving Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps vessels and aircraft, the Marine Corps announced that the troops were presumed dead.

All the Marines were riflemen with Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/4, assigned to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. A hospital corpsman assigned to the same unit was also among the casualties.

Recovery efforts are ongoing for the lost troops. The Marine Corps has suspended all amphibious vehicle water operations as officials investigate the cause of the deadly mishap. LINK

The New York Times reported that two nearby amphibious assault vehicles witnessed the vehicle sink and were able to pinpoint its exact location.

Officials said it was unclear how the accident happened. The depth of the water drops off quickly around the island and the vehicle was in several hundred feet of water when it sank, Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Osterman, commanding general of the I Marine Expeditionary Force, stated. When the vehicle left shore, conditions had been considered acceptable for training.

There are around 800 amphibious assault vehicles in the Marines’ inventory, each of which can carry up to 21 people and weigh 26 tons.

The amphibious assault vehicles, first deployed in the 1970s, are slow, lightly armoured and are considered by many Marines as particularly vulnerable, especially during conflict. Moreover, it is prone to taking in water while at sea from both its rear ramp and troop compartment. In 2017, 15 Marines were wounded when an amphibious vehicle they were training in caught fire, also at Camp Pendleton.

Although the Marines have been seeking a replacement, the amphibious vehicle has remained a cornerstone in the Corps’ inventory as there are no alternative vehicles with comparable amphibious capabilities.

Camp Pendleton hosts the largest Marine base on the West Coast, and Marines often practice beach assaults there using the amphibious troop transport vehicles. LINK

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