7 marines, 1 sailor aboard 'rapidly sinking' AAV presumed dead after 40-hour search off California Island
The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) said that the eight service members could not be found despite an extensive search
The search for seven Marines and one sailor who went missing following an accident to their amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) on Thursday, July 30, has been called off and they are now presumed dead, according to a press release.
The AAV, which had 15 Marines and one sailor aboard, was returning to the amphibious transport dock U.S. Navy amphibious ship USS Somerset after conducting a training raid at San Clemente Island, California when it started taking water at around 5:45 pm, reported the Marine Corps Times.
Soon after, the vehicle started "rapidly sinking" with all 16 members still on board. Eight of them managed to escape the sinking vessel successfully and immediately returned to Somerset, from where three of them were rushed to a hospital.
Speaking at a press conference the next day, Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Osterman, commander of the I Marine Expeditionary Force based in Camp Pendleton, California, said the AAV was among a group of 13 AAVs returning to Somerset when it started sinking.
"It sank completely," he said, adding that the "assumption is it went all the way to the bottom," several hundred feet below the surface.
He said one of the Marines who made to the shore was pronounced dead at the hospital but did not specify anything further. The other two Marines are in critical condition as well.
On Sunday, August 2, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) said in a press release that the other eight service members could not be found despite an extensive search and were now presumed dead.
"It is with a heavy heart, that I decided to conclude the search and rescue effort,” Col. Christopher Bronzi, commander of the 15th MEU, said in the press release. "The steadfast dedication of the Marines, sailors, and Coast Guardsmen to the persistent rescue effort was tremendous."
According to the press release, the Corps, along with Navy and Coast Guard vessels and aircraft, conducted an "extensive 40-hour" search for the missing troops that covered more than 1,000 nautical miles but were ultimately not successful.
The search efforts were also assisted by the guided-missile destroyer John Finn, the amphibious assault ship Makin Island, the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock Somerset, and the amphibious transport dock San Diego, as well as 11 Navy SH-60 helicopters and multiple small boats from the Corps and Navy. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Forrest Rednour and a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Coast Guard Sector San Diego joined the search too.
"The 15th MEU and the Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) leadership determined that there was little probability of a successful rescue given the circumstances of the incident," the press release said.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger expressed his condolences in a tweet and thanked all the agencies for their help in the search.
"I know all of us in the USMC family are extremely saddened following the announcement of the end of SAR operations. This difficult decision was made after all resources were exhausted. Our prayers continue to be with the family and friends of the 8 Marines and one Sailor we lost," he wrote.
"I want to express my gratitude to our Navy and Coast Guard teammates for their efforts and support in the search and rescue of Marines, and the diligent efforts they made to recover our Marines and Sailor who remain missing."