A massive search and rescue operation for seven Marines and a Navy sailor who went missing after a training accident off the California coast has been halted and all are presumed dead, authorities said Sunday.
Fifteen Marines and the sailor were participating in a routine training exercise off the coast of San Clemente Island on Thursday when their amphibious assault vehicle began taking on water and sank. Eight Marines were pulled from the water – one died and two others remained hospitalized in critical condition Sunday, the Marines said in a statement.
Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard helicopters and ships searched more than I,000 square nautical miles for 40 hours. Search team commanders ultimately determined there was little probability of a successful rescue given the circumstances of the incident, the statement said.
“It is with a heavy heart, that I decided to conclude the search and rescue effort,” said Col. Christopher Bronzi. “The steadfast dedication of the Marines, sailors. and Coast Guardsmen to the persistent rescue effort was tremendous.”
The vehicle sank in several hundred feet of water off San Clemente Island, about 60 miles off the coast of Camp Pendleton in San Diego County. Efforts will now turn to finding and recovering the bodies, including equipment designed to survey the sea floor, which is too deep for divers to reach.
“Our thoughts and prayers have been, and will continue to be with our Marines’ and sailor’s families,” said Bronzi. “As we turn to recovery operations we will continue our exhaustive search for our missing Marines and Sailor.”
The circumstances surrounding the incident are being investigated. The tragedy marks the third time in less than a decade that Camp Pendleton Marines have been injured or died in amphibious assault vehicles during training exercises.
Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger ordered an immediate suspension of amphibious assault vehicles from training at sea.