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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Marines ID All 9 People Killed In Training Accident

 August 3, 2020 at 11:33 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Recovery efforts continue off the coast of San Diego for the bodies of seven Marines and one sailor presumed dead after their landing craft sank near San Clemente Island. On Thursday, one Marine died after being rescued, bringing the total death toll to nine after days of intense searching the Marine command. Stop the search and rescue effort yesterday and change the mission to recovery. All of the Marines were attached to the 15th Marine expeditionary unit stationed at camp Pendleton. And joining me is KPBS military correspondent, Steve Walsh, and Steve welcome. So officials have now released the names of the men who died in this accident. Can you give us a sense of their ages and where they were from? Speaker 2: 00:46 Sure. Among the, uh, of the Marines and the one sailor that sailor was a Navy corpsman. They range in age from, uh, 19 to 23 years old. Four of them are from California, but closest is from Riverside, California. Speaker 1: 01:02 And some of the Marines were rescued. How are they doing? Speaker 2: 01:05 So, yes, there were at least five Marines that were returned to their unit almost immediately. And then we had two that were flown to local hospitals. One of them, two of them were in critical condition at the time, but one of them has since been upgraded to stable condition. Speaker 1: 01:20 What kind of exercise were these servicemen on when the landing craft sank? Speaker 2: 01:26 The Marines have not said too much about what they were doing out there, but we do know it was some sort of amphibious landing exercise. We don't even know if they were going toward the beach or if they're going back to the ships. Uh, but this is an exercise that is done very often outside of San Clemente Island. Uh, this is the only place in the Navy where you can still do these kinds of exercises using live fire that we're being told by the Marines that there was no live fire involved when that the craft sank, what seems to have happened is it, uh, they radioed that they were taking on water, but this happened very quickly. There were other boats in the area. They came toward them, but, but the craft sank incredibly quickly would have been very difficult to get out of this crappy, but talk to Marines who have been on board. Speaker 2: 02:11 Uh AAVs and of course they're trained for this eventuality if in case they take on water, but these crafts had just above the waterline. Uh, there is a large rear hatch, uh, that would open up if they were on land. So the personnel could get out, that would be completely sealed. So they would have to find their way to various hatches at the top. Most of them would to be sealed because they were out at sea. So it would, there would have been a lot of compute confusion. They would have been wearing their full battle rattling gear, or at least had it with them. So it would have been very difficult to make their way out of this, uh, uh, AAV very quickly. Speaker 1: 02:46 Is this a type of landing craft that is typically used? Speaker 2: 02:49 It is, this has been around since 1972. It's a very old piece of equipment. It's been upgraded several times since then, but it's a, it's something that they've been trying to replace over the years. I bet starting back in the 1990s, there have been attempts to replace these AAVs, but, um, they have it cost over. Runs have typically stopped these from being replaced from the fleet. Uh, in in fact, these AAVs are still probably going to be around for another several years before replacement can make its way into the fleet. Speaker 1: 03:20 Now, since rescuers knew just about the exact location, where the landing craft went down, what made the search so difficult? Speaker 2: 03:28 Well, it's sank in several hundred feet of water. We're told by the Marines that the, the water level drops off very precipitously as you leave San Clemente Island. This was, this craft is probably below the range where they could get divers to it. So they're right now they're using unmanned vehicles to try to get to the landing craft Speaker 1: 03:48 Accidents involving this amphibious assault tractor before. Speaker 2: 03:51 Yeah, some local ones in 2011, somebody drowned a board, one of these during a training exercise, right outside of Del Mar. Um, and then in 2017 and the AAV, uh, actually hit a gas main and, uh, several of the Marines 14 were injured. Some of them quite seriously when the vehicle began to burn. Speaker 1: 04:13 So how has the Marine Corps reacted to this tragedy? Speaker 2: 04:17 Well, they've called the commandant of the Marine Corps, general David Berger. He called a temporary halt to all a waterborne operations for the AAV. They can still operate on land, but not in the sea. Um, until he said that they get a better idea of exactly what happened with this craft. Speaker 1: 04:34 Is there a feeling Steve, that may be these sorts of training exercises involving amphibious landings are out of date? Speaker 2: 04:44 There is actually, there's a lot of questions being raised by the military over the years about whether or not it's even possible to do these kinds of amphibious landings under fire. They've never, they haven't done one since the Korean war. Imagine this kind of DDA style invasion where these, uh, these AAVs are slowly making their way down to if you had a rocket or an RPG, you could fire at them. Um, but the Marines have insisted that no, this is a essential part of what makes them Marines. This is why they work with the Navy. So they can dispatch troops from a ship and make their way to shore. There are other concerns with the AAV. Uh, this is, uh, because there have to operate both on water and on land. There, there are compromised. They move slowly in the water and they move fairly slowly on land. They're also very susceptible to roadside bombs, which is why they stopped using them in Iraq and never deploy them at all in Afghanistan. Speaker 1: 05:41 And I've been speaking with KPBS, military correspondent because Steve Walsh and Steve, thank you. Thanks Marina.

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The U.S. Marine Corps has identified all nine people killed when a Marine landing craft sank in hundreds of feet of water off the Southern California coast.
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