Marines Call Off Search For Missing Troops; Eight Presumed Dead

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SAN CLEMENTE ISLAND (CNS) - Seven Marines and one Navy sailor arepresumed dead today after the military called off its search for the troops,who went missing after an amphibious vehicle sank during a training missionThursday.

One additional Marine was rescued, but later died, and two othersremain in critical condition, in the aftermath of the incident that occurred 80miles off the coast of Encinitas.

 “It is with a heavy heart that I decided to conclude the search andrescue effort,'' said Col. Christopher Bronzi, the commanding officer of the15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). “As we turn to recovery operations wewill continue our exhaustive search for our missing Marines and sailor.''

The 15th MEU, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), and the MakinIsland Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) had been working together to try to locatemore survivors, but they concluded the search and rescue operation Saturdayafter 40 hours of seeking across 1,324 square miles.

All of the victims' next-of-kin have been notified, military officialssaid.

The fatal accident -- which prompted an immediate suspension of AAVwater operations -- took place about 5:45 p.m. Thursday, while the crew was enroute to a waiting ship following several days of operational maneuvers, saidLt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commanding general of 1st MEF.

In total, 15 Marines and one sailor had participated in the exercise.

“The amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) they were riding in began totake on water and sank,'' according to a MEF press release.

Seven of the personnel were able to get out of the sinking land andsea-going vehicle and were pulled from the water. Medics took three of them to Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, where one was pronounced dead and the others were admitted in critical but stable condition.

The other five rescued Marines received clean bills of health andreturned to their units, officials said.

Crews aboard the USS John Finn, USS Makin Island, USS Somerset and USSSan Diego, assisted in the operation. Eleven U.S. Navy helicopters, severalsmaller USN and Marine Corp. vessels, a U.S. Coast Guard cutter and a chopperfrom USCG Sector San Diego, also participated in the search for the missingservice personnel.

The 26-ton amphibious vehicle went down more than 1,000 yards from abeach on the northwest side of the San Clemente Island in water several hundredfeet deep, Osterman said.

“It's really below the depth that a diver can go to,'' Osterman toldreporters.The incident will be the subject of an exhaustive investigation,according to USMC officials.

“Our thoughts and prayers have been, and will continue to be with ourMarines' and sailor's families during this difficult time,'' Bronzi said.“The steadfast dedication of the Marines, sailors, and Coast Guardsmen to thepersistent rescue effort was tremendous.''

 All of the Marines involved were assigned to the 15th MarineExpeditionary Unit, based out of Camp Pendleton.

The Undersea Rescue Command will now deploy an underwater drone tolook for remains on the ocean floor, with support from offshore supply ship HOSDominator.

San Clemente Island is one of the eight islands that make up theChannel Islands archipelago.

The island is owned and operated by the U.S. Navy and is part of LosAngeles County. It is administered by Naval Base Coronado.

The names of the deceased troops are expected to be released withinthe next 24 hours.

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