Military teams have found the location of a sunken amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) off the coast of San Clemente Island in Southern California after several military members died in a training accident Thursday. Officials are in the process of recovering the AAV, Lieutenant Biran Tuthill of the Marine Expeditionary Force said in a press release.
Human remains have also been located using underwater remotely-operated video systems, the Navy said.
“The Navy has expedited the movement of assets to recover the remains of the Marines and Sailor, as well as raise the AAV,” the press release said. “The equipment to properly and safely perform the recovery from the sea floor will be in place at the end of this week, and a dignified transfer of our Marines and Sailor will occur as soon as possible after the conclusion of recovery operations.”
AAVs are used to carry Marines from ship to ship. The AAV involved in the accident was carrying 15 Marines and one sailor when it was transferring the sailors from the shores of San Clemente Island near San Diego to a Navy ship when the AAV began to sink. Eight Marines were rescued after the accident and one was pronounced dead at the scene.
The Marines were attached to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), based at Camp Pendleton.
A search and rescue operation by the Marines was called off on Sunday for the eight other military members who went missing. All eight were presumed dead. The Marines said earlier that this might be the worst incident involving an AAV since they entered service nearly five decades ago.
“It is with a heavy heart that I decided to conclude the search and rescue effort,” Colonel Christopher Bronzi, 15th MEU commanding officer, said earlier. “The steadfast dedication of the Marines, sailors and Coast Guardsmen to the persistent rescue effort was tremendous.”
@USNavy Undersea Rescue Command confirmed human remains were identified with remotely-operated video systems aboard HOS Dominator, an undersea search & rescue ship. The Navy has expedited the movement of assets to recover the remains of the Marines and Sailor, and raise the AAV. pic.twitter.com/qAK62CMitV
Officials with the 15th MEU identified the personnel involved in the accident. The service member whose body was recovered was Marine Lance Corporal Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels, Texas. He was pronounced dead at the scene before being transported by helicopter to Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego. Perez was a rifleman with Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 1/4, 15th MEU.
The missing were identified as: Private First Class Bryan J. Baltierra, 19, of Corona, California; Lance Corporal Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, California; Corporal Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, California; U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, California; Private First Class Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin; Private First Class Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon; Corporal Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas; and Lance Corporal Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Oregon.
The Marines have suspended all water operations of the more than 800 AAVs until the cause of accident is determined. The investigation is ongoing.
Caroline Linton contributed to this report.
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