Search-and-rescue vessel locates the amphibious assault vehicle that sank

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – An undersea search-and-rescue vessel has located the amphibious assault vehicle that sank last week during an ocean training mission near San Clemente Island and confirmed the presence of human remains aboard, according to Marine Corps officials.

The Navy “has expedited the movement of assets” to recover the bodies of the eight Marines and sailor killed in the accident and raise the AAV, according to a statement from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

The amphibious troop-transport vehicle was en route to a waiting ship about 80 miles west of Encinitas when it foundered for unknown reasons about 5:45 p.m. Thursday, according to Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commanding general of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.

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, Marine officials said.

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 ocean.

The other eight 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.

The 26-ton amphibious vehicle went down more than 1,000 yards from a beach on the northwest side of the San Clemente Island in water several hundred feet deep.

The deadly accident will be the subject of an exhaustive investigation, according to USMC officials. The Undersea Rescue Command was slated to use an underwater drone to search for the missing victims’ remains, with support from supply ship HOS Dominator, military officials said.

In a prepared statement released Monday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said “(a) grateful nation and the Department of Defense grieves the tragic loss … of these brave young men.”

“Their service, commitment and courage will always be remembered by the nation they served,” Esper said. “While the incident remains under investigation, I want to assure our service members and their families that we are committed to gathering all the facts, understanding exactly how this incident occurred and preventing similar tragedies in the future.”

San Clemente Island, one of the eight in the Channel Islands archipelago, is owned by the U.S. Navy and lies within the boundaries of Los Angeles County. Its military uses are administered by Naval Base Coronado.

Categories: California News, Local San Diego News