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7 Marines, 1 Sailor presumed dead as search ends 40 hours after training accident

Search operations under way after an AAV accident off the coast of California on July 30, 2020. (U.S. Marine Corps/Released)
August 02, 2020

Seven missing U.S. Marines and one Sailor are now presumed dead and a 40-hour search operation has been suspended following a training accident off the coast of California on Thursday.

“All eight service members are presumed deceased. The 15th MEU [Marine Expeditionary Unit] and the ARG [Amphibious Ready Group] leadership determined that there was little probability of a successful rescue given the circumstances of the incident,” I Marine Expeditionary Force said in a statement early Sunday.

During the 40-hour search operation, personnel from the Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard searched a 1,000 square nautical mile radius. Search efforts involved U.S. warships USS John Finn, USS Makin Island, USS Somerset, and USS San Diego, in addition to 11 U.S. Navy SH-60 helicopters, and helicopters and vessels from the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.

Col. Christopher Bronzi, 15th MEU Commanding Officer, said “It is with a heavy heart, that I decided to conclude the search and rescue effort. The steadfast dedication of the Marines, Sailors, and Coast Guardsmen to the persistent rescue effort was tremendous.”

Nine service members lost their lives in the incident, as the presumed dead eight service members join one service member who was reported dead in the first reports of the incident.

16 service members were aboard the 20-ton Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV) when it sank during a training exercise off the coast of California on Thursday. Eight Marines were rescued.

“I know all of us in the USMC family are extremely saddened following the announcement of the end of SAR operations. This difficult decision was made after all resources were exhausted. Our prayers continue to be with the family and friends of the 8 Marines and one Sailor we lost,” Marine Corps Commandant David Berger tweeted Sunday morning.

“Our thoughts and prayers have been, and will continue to be with our Marines’ and Sailor’s families during this difficult time,” Bronzi said. “As we turn to recovery operations, we will continue our exhaustive search for our missing Marines and Sailor.”

The Marine Corps will deploy offshore supply vessel HOS Dominator, as well as the Undersea Rescue Command and its Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to survey the crash site and conduct recovery efforts.

The AAV had begun taking on water around 5:45 p.m. Thursday night and quickly sank. Two other AAVs were nearby and able to assist in rescuing the survivors and marking the location of the sunk vehicle.