Seven U.S. Marines and a Navy sailor were missing on Friday, a day after their amphibious assault vehicle sank off the southern California coast during a training mission, Marine Corps officials said. .
Seven other Marines were rescued and are alive while another was killed after their vehicle took on water and sank around 5:45 p.m. PT on Thursday, US military officials said during a press conference.
“They signaled to the rest of the unit that they were in fact taking water,” said Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman. “An immediate response was provided by two additional Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs) as well as a security boat.”
Two of the rescued Marines were in critical condition at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla while the other five have returned to their assigned ships, Gen. David Berger said.
A search and rescue mission involving a US Navy destroyer and a Coast Guard cutter continued Friday afternoon for the missing Marines and Sailors. But officials said the mission was complicated by the location of the vehicle under hundreds of feet of water, out of the reach of divers.
The Marines were wearing combat gear as well as inflatable vests when the incident occurred, Osterman said.
“It sank completely,” he said, adding that it was in several hundred feet of water. At “26 tonnes, the assumption is that it has gone all the way.”
The incident occurred during what the Marine Corps said was a routine training exercise near San Clemente Island. There, Marines often carry out attacks on the beach using amphibious personnel carriers.
Berger said he has suspended all AAV water operations until the cause is determined. He also said the AAVs of the entire fleet will be inspected.
All of the Marines involved were assigned to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at Camp Pendleton, the largest marine base on the West Coast of the United States, between Orange and San Diego counties.
Thursday’s crash marks the third time in recent years that Marines at Camp Pendleton have been injured or died in amphibious assault vehicles during training exercises. The vehicles have been in use since 1972 and continually refurbished. Marine Corps officials said on Friday they did not know the age or other details of the one who sank.