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Search continues for missing servicemen after training accident off Southern California coast

San Clemente Island, viewed from a shuttle aircraft
San Clemente Island, viewed from a shuttle aircraft that regularly flies military and civilian personnel to the U.S. Navy-owned land mass.
(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

The search continued Saturday for eight service members after their landing craft went down in hundreds of feet of water following a deadly accident off San Clemente Island, officials said.

Helicopters and boats ranging from inflatables to a Navy destroyer were searching a roughly 200-square-mile area for seven Marines and a Navy corpsman.

The amphibious assault vehicle is beyond the reach of divers and complicating rescue efforts for the missing troops.

Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Osterman, the commanding general of the Marine Expeditionary Force, told reporters Friday that the vehicle, which weighs 26 tons, “sank completely” more than 3,200 feet offshore and “the assumption is it went all the way to the bottom.”

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“The AAV is actually in several hundred feet of water — it’s really below the depth that a diver can go to,” he said.

The incident occurred when the vehicle carrying 15 Marines and one Navy sailor began taking on water about 5:45 p.m. Thursday, according to the Marine Corps.

One Marine was taken to Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla and later died. Two others were injured and remain hospitalized but are no longer in intensive care.

Five other service members were rescued.

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The Marines, with support from the Navy and Coast Guard, were still searching for the missing service members late Friday afternoon.

“We have not moved into recovery operations,” Osterman said. “We’re still looking for them.”

The Marine Corps commandant, Gen. David H. Berger, said that even though the search was continuing, the focus now should be on the troops and their families. He added that he was suspending waterborne operations of all of the more than 800 amphibious assault vehicles across the Marines until the cause of the accident is determined. He said the move was out of “an abundance of caution.”

The name of the Marine who died will be withheld until 24 hours after notification of next of kin, officials said, and “all family members who are affected will be contacted directly by their Marines’ chain of command.”

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All the Marines involved were assigned to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is based out of Camp Pendleton.

San Diego Union-Tribune staff writers Andrew Dyer and Phil Diehl and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


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