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Bodies of 7 missing Marines, 1 sailor, boat wreckage found on ocean floor off California coast

Undersea Rescue Command deploys the Sibitzky Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) from the deck of the Military Sealift Command-chartered merchant vessel HOS Dominator. Undersea Rescue Command is aiding in recovery of the missing seven Marines and one Sailor from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. (U.S. Navy photo by LT Curtis Khol/Released)
August 05, 2020

The U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy located the bodies of eight missing service members and the wreckage of their sunken amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) on Monday, four days after the accident occurred.

A press release on Tuesday confirmed the positive identification of the wreckage and bodies from the previous day. The vehicle was found at a depth of 385 feet, and human remains were spotted with the Navy’s remote video systems deployed from its search and rescue ship, HOS Dominator.

“The Navy has expedited the movement of assets to recover the remains of the Marines and Sailor, as well as raise the AAV. The equipment to properly and safely perform the recovery from the sea floor will be in place at the end of this week, and a dignified transfer of our Marines and Sailor will occur as soon as possible after the conclusion of recovery operations,” the press release said.

Sailors from Undersea Rescue Command deploy the Sibitzky Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) from the deck of the Military Sealift Command-chartered merchant vessel HOS Dominator. Undersea Rescue Command is aiding in recovery of the missing seven Marines and one Sailor from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. (U.S. Navy photo by LT Curtis Khol/Released)

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The accident took place approximately 1,500 meters from the shoreline of San Clemente Island, Calif. 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.

The identities of the seven presumed dead U.S. Marines and one Sailor were identified early Monday, along with an eighth U.S. Marine who died on the scene following an amphibious assault vehicle accident on Thursday.

The eight missing service members were declared deceased on Sunday and their identities released as follows:

  • Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 18, of Corona, California, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
  • Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, California, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
  • Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
  • U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, California, a hospital corpsman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
  • Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
  • Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
  • Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Oregon, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
  • Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, California, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.

The ninth service member — who died on the scene and was the first reported casualty — was identified as Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels, Texas. He was a rifleman with Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 1/4, 15th MEU.

Two of the rescued Marines were transported to the hospital in critical condition. One of them has improved to stable condition.

The eight missing service members were announced as presumed dead on Sunday at the conclusion of a 40-hour search operation.

“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.”

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. Seven Marines were rescued alive, and one died on scene.

“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.”