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Search and rescue ship joins desperate hunt for eight missing military service members

The submarine support ship HOS ‘Dominator’ has joined the search for seven Marines and one Sailor, who have been missing since their amphibious assault vehicle sank in 600 feet of water Thursday.

One Marine has already been confirmed dead and two more injured after the vehicle sank in the water at around 5:45pm near San Clemente Island in Los Angeles County. 

The Marines have suspended the use of the amphibious assault vehicles in water while they are inspected.  

One sailor and 15 Marines were inside the 26-ton military vehicle when it sank into the Pacific Ocean. 

Eight were rescued from the water, but the other eight remain missing and are presumed dead. 

One Marine was taken to Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla where he died. Two injured Marines were taken to San Diego-area hospitals where one is in critical condition and the other is stable.  

The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit said that they have notified all the families of the Marines and Sailor involved in the tragic accident. 

The search for the remaining service members continued Saturday with HOS ‘Dominator’ joining Navy, Marines and Coast Guard efforts.

The Marine Expeditionary Force is the Marine Corps’ main warfighting organization. There are three such groups which are made up of ground, air and logistics forces. 

Gen. David Berger, commandant of the Marine Corps, said during a press conference at Camp Pendleton that all their AAV’s will undergo a review.  

‘All AAVs across the fleet will be inspected,’ said Gen. Berger, USNI News reports. 

‘This is to ensure out of an abundance of caution that we take the time, give the time to the recovery and find out what actually happened. [AAV] units can continue to train ashore. We’ll wait until we have a better picture.’ 

But it’s unclear how long the wait will be because the sheer depth of the AAV’s descent into the water complicated matters.

Gen. Osterman added that the AAV ‘is really below the depth that a diver could do.

‘So we are working and we really owe an incredible gratitude and thanks to our Navy and Coast Guard brethren who’ve helped us in this endeavor. They are actually working with us to provide assets that can basically get down and take a look at the AAV.’

Lt. Gen. Joseph D. Osterman, the I Marine Expeditionary Force commander, added: ‘We are continuing search and rescue operations,’

‘We have not leaned into recovery operations. We are still looking for the seven Marines and one sailor who we have not yet found.’  

Search and rescue options began immediately after the AAV sank. 

At the time of the accident, the Marines had been training on San Clemente Island and were returning to the amphibious warship USS Somerset. 

‘An immediate response was provided by two additional [AAVs] that were with them…. as well as a safety boat,’said Osterman.

The island, which sits about 78 miles from Camp Pendleton, is managed by the Navy and houses a number of training facilities. 

The New York Times reports that two nearby amphibious vehicles witnessed the AAV sink and were able to positively identify the exact location.

 ‘The adjacent A.A.V.’s watched it go down, and at 26 tons, the assumption is that it went down to the bottom,’ said Lt. Osterman. 

He estimated that oldest service member aboard was in their mid-30s and the youngest was near 18-years-old. 

The Marines and Sailor were wearing combat gear and flotation devices at the time. 

‘This mishap is under investigation. We will share the results of it once it is complete,’ said Gen. Berger. 

There are about 800 AAVs in the Marine’s inventory and each weighs 26 tons and can carry up to 21 people.

In 2017, 15 Marines were injured when a AAV they were training in caught fire at Camp Pendleton. 

Marines have utilized the vehicles to move troops from water to land since the 1970s.  

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