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Marines punish 2-star general over fatal sinking of amphibious vehicle

Military members in uniform place a casket with a U.S. flag draped over it next to six other caskets in a cargo plane
U.S. Marines and sailors at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar load a C-17 with the caskets of service members who died after an amphibious vehicle sank off the coast of San Diego last summer.
(U.S. Marine Corps)

The highest-ranking Marine officer bearing some responsibility for the fatal 2020 sinking of an amphibious vehicle off the coast of San Diego is being formally disciplined by the Marine Corps, the service said Wednesday.

Maj. Gen. Robert Castellvi, who was the commanding general of the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Division at the time of the accident, will not return to his job as the Marine Corps inspector general. He also received what the Marines described as “adverse administrative action” — he was “personally and formally” counseled by the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. David Berger.

Castellvi failed to “properly train the Marines and sailors for whom he was entrusted” and inadequately evaluated the amphibious platoon before it was attached to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, the Marines said.

That platoon — Battalion Landing Team 1/4 — was training for a deployment with the 15th MEU near San Clemente Island off San Diego last summer when an assault amphibious vehicle with 16 troops inside began taking on water.

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According to a Marine Corps investigation, the troops on board had not been properly trained to escape the vehicle while in the water and the vehicle commander waited too long — 45 minutes — to order an evacuation. When another AAV made its way to the foundering vehicle, it struck the first AAV on the side, tilting it into an oncoming wave, which sent water in through an open escape hatch.

The vehicle quickly sank, killing eight Marines and one sailor. They ranged in age from 18 to 23.

The Marine Corps investigation also found the platoon’s decades-old vehicles were in poor material condition. The day of the accident, one could not leave the ship for the training mission and others could not leave San Clemente Island at the conclusion of that mission, before the sinking, due to mechanical failures.

Lt. Col. Michael Regner, the commanding officer of Battalion Landing Team 1/4, was removed from command in October. Col. Christopher Bronzi, the commanding officer of the 15th MEU, was fired in March upon the completion of the Marine Corps investigation. Although the investigation found Castellvi bore some responsibility for the accident, the Corps did not immediately punish him.

Under pressure from the families of the lost service members, the Marines opened another investigation into the formation of the MEU. Shortly after it began, Castellvi was suspended from his job as inspector general pending the new investigation’s outcome.

The service suspended waterborne operations of AAVs after the accident pending inspections of the Corps’ vehicles. In April, it resumed limited waterborne operations, but ship-to-shore operations remain on hold, the Marines said Wednesday.


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