Seven US 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, US Marine Corps officials said.
Seven other marines were rescued and are alive while one was killed after their vehicle took on water and sank around 5.45pm Pacific time on Thursday, military officials said during a news conference.
“They signaled to the rest of the unit that they were in fact taking on water,” Lt Gen Joseph Osterman said. “Immediate response was provided by two additional amphibious assault vehicles (AAVs) as well as a safety boat.”
Two of the rescued marines were in critical condition at Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla while the other five are back onboard their assigned ships, Gen David Berger said.
A search and rescue mission involving a US navy destroyer and a coast guard cutter continued on Friday afternoon for the missing marines and sailor. But officials said the mission was complicated by the vehicle’s location under hundreds of feet of water, beyond the reach of divers.
The marines were wearing combat gear along with 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 tons, the assumption is that it went all the way to the bottom”.
The incident occurred during what the Marine Corps said was a routine training exercise near San Clemente Island. Marines often practice beach assaults there using amphibious troop transport vehicles.
Berger said he had suspended all AAV water operations until the cause was determined. He also said AAVs across the fleet would be inspected.
All 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 US, between Orange and San Diego counties.
Thursday’s accident marks the third time in recent years that Camp Pendleton marines have been injured or died in amphibious assault vehicles during training exercises. The vehicles have been used since 1972 and continually refurbished. Marine Corps officials said on Friday they did not know the age or other details of the one that sank.