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Marine unit involved in high-surf amphibious vehicle rollover same as one involved in 2020 sinking

Marines from the 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, prepare for a training mission onboard their Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, CA. (Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

The Marine unit operating in high surf off Camp Pendleton when two of its amphibious troop carriers floundered in the waves last week is the same unit that lost nine service members two years ago when another amphibious troop carrier sank off the coast of San Diego, the Marines said Monday.

On July 19, Marines from the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment and 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion were conducting shore-to-shore operations in the Corps’ new Amphibious Combat Vehicles when one rolled over and another broke down in high surf. Video of the incident, published by USNI News, showed a wave breaking over the top of one of the armored vehicles and another on its side in the surf. Marines jumped from the stranded vehicle into the waves.

No one was injured in the incident, the Marines said. The next day, the Marines announced it was suspending waterborne ACV operations while it investigated what happened.

The Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Division did not say at the time which unit was involved nor did it answer a series of follow-up questions. Reached by phone Monday, Maj. Lucas Burke, a division spokesperson, confirmed the battalion and company were the same from 2020’s fatal sinking.

The incident came almost two years after eight Marines and a sailor from 1/4’s Bravo Company were killed when their amphibious troop carrier — a Vietnam War-era Assault Amphibious Vehicle — broke down and sank near San Clemente Island. The AAV was returning to the amphibious transport dock Somerset when it began taking on water and stalled. Another AAV came to rescue those on board and bumped it into a breaking wave, sending water over its top and into the open escape hatch.

The Marines pulled AAVs from waterborne operations in December. The new ACV is set to replace those vehicles and will deploy for the first time this year.

Last week’s incident came amid unusually large swells that battered the Southern California coast for days. Ocean conditions can be a factor in whether Marines take their vehicles in the water, but the service has not said what their assessment of the swells were that day.

Investigations into the 2020 AAV sinking didn’t cite sea state as a causal factor in the wreck, but the driver of that AAV testified at a Camp Pendleton inquiry in December that waves were breaking over the top of the vehicle and he had trouble seeing.

Peter Ostrovsky, whose son, Pfc. Jack-Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, was killed in the 2020 AAV sinking, said that the decision by Marine leaders to conduct ACV operations in surf forecast to be up to 10-feet suggests the Corps has not learned anything from that deadly incident.

“To put people at risk when the risk is so blatantly obvious tells me something is seriously wrong with that program,” Ostrovsky told the Union-Tribune in an interview Monday. “We lost Jack. We lost eight others. Did they learn anything?”

A Marine Corps investigation into last Tuesday’s incident is ongoing.


© 2022 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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