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U.S. Marines locate sunken vehicle with human remains on board

This photo provided by the U.S. Navy shows Undersea Rescue Command deploys the Sibitzky Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) from the deck of the Military Sealift Command-chartered merchant vessel HOS Dominator off the coast of Southern California on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020. Officials with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), and the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) positively identified on Aug. 3, 2020 the location of the amphibious assault vehicle that sunk off the coast of San Clemente Island on July 30,2020. The U.S. Navy's Undersea Rescue Command confirmed that human remains have also been identified using their underwater remotely-operated video systems from the merchant vessel.
This photo provided by the U.S. Navy shows Undersea Rescue Command deploys the Sibitzky Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) from the deck of the Military Sealift Command-chartered merchant vessel HOS Dominator off the coast of Southern California on Monday, Aug. 3, 2020. Officials with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), and the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) positively identified on Aug. 3, 2020 the location of the amphibious assault vehicle that sunk off the coast of San Clemente Island on July 30,2020. The U.S. Navy's Undersea Rescue Command confirmed that human remains have also been identified using their underwater remotely-operated video systems from the merchant vessel.(APLt. Curtis Khol/U.S. Navy via AP)
Published: Aug. 4, 2020 at 5:58 PM EDT
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SAN DIEGO (AP) — The U.S. Marine Corps has located the amphibious assault vehicle that sunk off the southern California coast last week with human remains inside.

“Undersea Rescue Command is humbled to have worked alongside the Navy, USMC, and Coast Guard to locate our Marine Corps and Navy brethren,” said Cmdr. Josh Powers in a tweet. “Our sincerest prayers and sympathies remain with their families, friends and fellow Marines and Sailors.”

A total of 16 troops — 15 Marines and one Navy corpsman — were on board when the amphibious assault vehicle started taking in water Thursday evening as it was about a half mile (more than 1,000 meters) from the shores of San Clemente Island. They had just finished a training mission.

Troops on board two other amphibious assault vehicles responded quickly, but were unable to stop the vehicle from sinking, Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman said.

Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels Texas was found at the scene. The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit announced on Sunday that the others, from California, Texas, Wisconsin and Oregon, are “presumed dead.”

They include: Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 19, of Corona, California; Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, California; Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin; U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, California; Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon; Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas; Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Oregon; and Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, California.

“Literally every asset we have available” was mobilized in the search for seven Marines and a Navy corpsman, Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said Friday.

Seven other Marines were rescued from the water; two were in stable condition at a hospital, authorities said.

All the Marines were attached to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at nearby Camp Pendleton. They ranged in age from 19 to early 30s and all were wearing combat gear, including body armor, and flotation vests, Osterman said.

The vehicle, known as an AAV but nicknamed an “amtrac,” for “amphibious tractor” is used to take Marines and their gear from Navy ships to land.

The sunken craft, one of 13 involved in the exercise, was designed to be naturally buoyant and had three water-tight hatches and two large troop hatches, Osterman said.

The vehicles have been used since 1972, and continually refurbished. Marine Corps officials said Friday they did not know the age or other details of the one that sank.

The Marine Corps commandant, Gen. David Berger, suspended waterborne operations of more than 800 amphibious assault vehicles across the branch until the cause of the accident is determined.

This is the third time in recent years that Camp Pendleton Marines have been injured or died in amphibious assault vehicles during training exercises.

In 2017, 14 Marines and one Navy sailor were hospitalized after their vehicle hit a natural gas line, igniting a fire that engulfed the landing craft at Camp Pendleton.

In 2011, a Marine died when an amphibious assault vehicle in a training exercise sank offshore of the camp.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. Gray Media Group Inc. contributed to this story. All rights reserved.

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