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Remains of seven Marines and a sailor who died in a training accident arrive in Delaware

The bodies of seven Marines and one Navy sailor have arrived in Delaware two weeks after their amphibious assault vehicle sank during a training accident off the coast of Southern California. 

A pallbearer group made up of Marines and sailors were seen loading each American-flag draped coffin into a US Air Force C-19 Globemaster III at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar on Wednesday. 

The coffins then arrived at the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware where they were received by family members. 

Eight Marines and one sailor were killed when a Marine landing craft sank in hundreds of feet of water off the coast of Southern California on July 30.

Only one of their bodies was found on the day of the incident, despite an intense days-long search involving helicopters and boats ranging from inflatables to a Navy destroyer.

Found at the scene was Lance Cpl Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels Texas. His body was flown to the Dover base on August 5. 

The other victims include: Pfc Bryan J. Baltierra, 19, of Corona, California; Lance Cpl Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, California; Pfc Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin; and US Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, California.

Pfc Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon; Cpl Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas; Lance Cpl Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Oregon; and Cpl Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, California, were also killed in the accident.

Gnem was posthumously advanced to the rank of Petty Officer Third Class and awarded his enlisted Fleet Marine Force Warfare Specialist qualification. 

They were aboard an amphibious assault vehicle that was heading back to a Navy ship on July 30 after a routine training exercise when it began taking on water about a half-mile from Navy-owned San Clemente Island, off San Diego. 

The vehicle ended up sinking about 385 feet. 

Other assault vehicles quickly responded but couldn’t stop the 26-ton, tank-like vehicle from quickly sinking, Osterman said.

‘The assumption is that it went completely to the bottom’ several hundred feet below, Osterman said. That was too deep for divers, and Navy and Coast Guard were discussing ways to reach the sunken vehicle to get a view inside it, Osterman said.

Seven other Marines were rescued from the water; two had to be hospitalized. 

All the Marines were attached to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at nearby Camp Pendleton. 

They ranged in age from 19 to early 30s and all were wearing combat gear, including body armor, and flotation vests, Osterman said.

The vehicle, known as an AAV but nicknamed an ‘amtrac,’ for ‘amphibious tractor’ is used to take Marines and their gear from Navy ships to land.

The sunken craft, one of 13 involved in the exercise, was designed to be naturally buoyant and had three water-tight hatches and two large troop hatches, Osterman said.

The vehicles have been used since 1972, and continually refurbished. Marine Corps officials said earlier this month that they did not know the age or other details of the one that sank.

Authorities said they located the sunken amphibious assault vehicle on August 3. 

The Marine Corps commandant, Gen David Berger, suspended waterborne operations of more than 800 amphibious assault vehicles across the branch until the cause of the accident is determined.

This is the third time in recent years that Camp Pendleton Marines have been injured or died in amphibious assault vehicles during training exercises.

In 2017, 14 Marines and one Navy sailor were hospitalized after their vehicle hit a natural gas line, igniting a fire that engulfed the landing craft at Camp Pendleton.

In 2011, a Marine died when an amphibious assault vehicle in a training exercise sank offshore of the camp.

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