Naval Air Crewman 2nd Class Joseph Rivera, a search and rescue swimmer assigned to the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD-8), looks out of a U.S. Navy MH-60 Seahawk while conducting search and rescue operations following an AAV-P7/A1 assault amphibious vehicle mishap off the coast of Southern California, July 30, 2020. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Mackenzie Binion
The remains of seven Marines and a sailor who were killed when their amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) sank during a training exercise July 30 off the California coast near Camp Pendleton were successfully recovered Friday.
After officials positively identified the AAV Monday nearly 400 feet underwater, the US Navy led the underwater search and salvage efforts. Specialized equipment on a diving and salvage ship to recover the remains and AAV arrived Thursday to relieve the crew of HOS Dominator, who stayed in position after locating the site.
The recovered service members will be transferred to Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, for preparation by mortuary affairs teams for burial and then released to the families in accordance with their wishes.
“Our hearts and thoughts of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit are with the families of our recovered Marines and sailor,” said Col. Christopher Bronzi, commanding officer of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. “We hope the successful recovery of our fallen warriors brings some measure of comfort.”
The AAV had been packed with 16 service members when it began taking on water during a shore-to-ship maneuver about a mile off the coast of San Clemente Island.
Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commander of I Marine Expeditionary Force, said at a July 31 press conference the AAV was among a group of 13 AAVs returning to the amphibious ship USS Somerset when its crew signaled to other AAVs that they were taking on water. Service members on two other AAVs and those on a safety boat accompanying the vehicles rendered immediate aid, rescuing eight of the imperiled Marines.
Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 19, of New Braunfels, Texas, was pronounced dead at the scene before he and two critically injured Marines were transported by helicopter to Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego July 30.
One Marine has been released, and the other remains in critical condition. Perez’s remains were transferred to Dover AFB Wednesday.
The eight Marines killed in the mishap were riflemen with Camp Pendleton’s 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, serving on the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s Battalion Landing Team. The sailor was a Fleet Marine Force corpsman assigned to the infantry unit.
A Battalion Landing Team provides a battalion of Marine infantry forces, reinforced with additional ground combat units and weapon systems, to form the Ground Combat Element of a Marine Expeditionary Unit.
The sunken AAV has been successfully recovered. The cause of the July 30 incident is under investigation.
The seven Marines and sailor whose remains were recovered Friday:
Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 22, of Harris, Texas
Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, California
Navy Corpsman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, California
Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, California
Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 18, of Portland, Oregon
Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 18, of Corona, California
Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin
Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 20, of Bend, Oregon
Ethan E. Rocke is a contributor and former senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine, a New York Times bestselling author, and award-winning photographer and filmmaker. He is a veteran of the US Army and Marine Corps. His work has been published in Maxim Magazine, American Legion Magazine, and many others. He is co-author of The Last Punisher: A SEAL Team THREE Sniper’s True Account of the Battle of Ramadi.
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