Remains of seven Marines and Sailor recovered after training accident
SAN CLEMENTE ISLAND (KUSI) – The remains of seven U.S. Marines and a Navy sailor were recovered Friday after going missing near San Clemente Island when their amphibious vehicle sank during a training mission last month.
The remains were recovered during underwater salvage operations, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force announced Friday evening. The remains will be transferred to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to be prepared for burial.
“Our hearts and thoughts of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit are with the families of our recovered Marines and Sailor,” said Col. Christopher Bronzi, commanding officer of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. “We hope the successful recovery of our fallen warriors brings some measure of comfort.”
The U.S. military announced Tuesday it had located the amphibious assault vehicle that sank last week off the coast of San Diego County, killing nine young servicemen, and confirmed the presence of human remains where the vessel came to rest on the sea floor.
The naval Undersea Rescue Command made the discovery near San Clemente Island on Monday using video systems remotely operated aboard the HOS Dominator, a merchant vessel whose crew specializes in undersea search and rescue.
The amphibious troop-transport vehicle was en route to a waiting ship during a maritime training mission about 80 miles west of Encinitas when it foundered for unknown reasons about 5:45 p.m. July 30, according to Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commanding general of I MEF.
The 26-ton vessel went down roughly 1,600 yards from a beach on the northwest side of the island in water nearly 400 feet deep.
Seven members of the Camp Pendleton-based crew survived the accident. Medics took two of them to Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, where both were admitted in critical status. One was upgraded to stable condition as of Sunday night.
The other five rescued Marines received clean bills of health and returned to their units.
Pronounced dead at the scene of the accident was Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez of New Braunfels, Texas. Perez, 20, was a rifleman with Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/4, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
The 15th MEU, I MEF and Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group searched in vain for nearly two days for more survivors or their bodies, finally concluding the operation Saturday after 40 hours of scanning some 1,325 square miles of water by sea and air.
The other lost service members have been identified as:
— Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 18, of Corona, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU;
— Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU;
— Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU;
— Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, a Navy hospital corpsman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU;
— Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU;
— Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU;
— Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Oregon, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU; and
— Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.