Sunken Marine amphibious vehicle, human remains found on sea floor off San Clemente Island

©The San Diego Union-Tribune

Lt. Curtis Khol/U.S. Navy/TNS

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — A remotely operated submarine has found the Marine assault amphibious vehicle that sank last week off San Clemente Island and some human remains, presumably of the eight service members who are missing and presumed dead, the Marines said Tuesday.

The amphibious vehicle sank Thursday during training. Eight Marines were pulled from the water but one later died at the scene. Two Marines were hospitalized.

Seven Marines and one sailor remained missing after a two-day, 1,000-nautical-mile search.

Human remains have also been identified with the vehicle, which was found Monday, according to I Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton.

The next phase will be the recovery of the vehicle and the human remains later this week, the Navy said.

“The Navy has expedited the movement of assets to recover the remains of the Marines and Sailor, as well as raise the AAV,” the statement said. “The equipment to properly and safely perform the recovery from the sea floor will be in place at the end of this week, and a dignified transfer of our Marines and Sailor will occur as soon as possible after the conclusion of recovery operations.”

The AAV was found at a depth of 385 feet, about 1,500 meters off of San Clemente Island.

Its crew — all from Battalion Landing Team 1/4 — was returning to its ship after training on the island. There were 16 on board when it began taking on water Thursday evening.

Two Marines were hospitalized in critical condition. One has since been upgraded to stable condition, the Marines said.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to express condolences.

“I am deeply saddened by the tragic loss of eight Marines and one Sailor during a training exercise off the coast of California,” Trump wrote. “Our prayers are with their families. I thank them for the brave service their loved ones gave to our Nation.”

The nine service members ranged in age from 18 to 23 and included a new dad, a man soon to be married and two who were 18 years old.

The seven missing Marines and sailor are:

— Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 18, a rifleman from Corona, Calif.

— Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, a rifleman from Montebello, Calif.

— Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, a rifleman from Oak Creek, Wis.

— U.S. Navy Hospitalman Seaman Christopher Gnem, 22, a corpsman from Stockton, Calif.

— Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, a rifleman from Bend, Ore.

— Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, a rifleman from Harris, Texas.

— Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 18, a rifleman from Portland, Ore.

— Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, a rifleman from Riverside, Calif.

On Friday, Gen. David Berger, the commandant of the Marine Corps, announced at Camp Pendleton that all waterborne operations of assault amphibious vehicles are suspended pending the outcome of an investigation into the sinking.

Marine AAVs have been in service since 1972 and have been involved in three mishaps around San Diego in the last 10 years.

One was involved in a 2017 accident on Camp Pendleton that sent 14 Marines and a sailor to the hospital with serious burn injuries after the vehicle struck a gas line.

Another Marine died on Camp Pendleton in 2011 when one sank 300 feet offshore of the base in 30 to 40 feet of water.

AAVs, commonly called “Amtracs,” can carry up to 24 troops — three crew and 21 in the transport compartment. All of the missing and dead troops were in the transport compartment of the vehicle, a Marine spokesman told The San Diego Union-Tribune on Monday.


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