The youngest was just 19 years old; the oldest just 23. In total, nine young men perished during an amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) accident off the coast of California on July 29. Eight of them will rest forever on the sea floor.

At around 5:45 pm, the AAV from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit started taking on water and “rapidly sank” off the coast of California. There were 15 Marines and one sailor aboard.

The AAV was returning to the amphibious transport dock USS Somerset after conducting a training raid at San Clemente Island, California.

According to Marine Corps Times, shortly after taking on water the vehicle “rapidly sank” with all 16 service members still onboard. While the AAV was not at maximum capacity, it would have been a tight fit especially with normal combat gear including body armor, making escape difficult.

Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commanding general of I Marine Expeditionary Force, said Marines in the other AAVs watched the vehicle sink, and because of its 26-ton weight, Osterman said they suspect it sank to the bottom of the ocean.

Eight of the 16 men aboard the AAV were recovered and taken to the Somerset.

Three of those rescued were immediately rushed to a nearby San Diego hospital, where one of them, Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels, Texas, was pronounced dead.  He was a rifleman with Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 1/4.

One Marine was listed as being in critical condition and another Marine was listed as stable.

The search for the remaining eight troops was conducted by several Navy ships, three Navy MH-60 helicopters alongside a U.S. Coast Guard cutter and a Coast Guard MH-60 helicopter.

The search-and-rescue efforts by the 15th MEU were concluded on Sunday after 40 hours when officials then turned to recovery efforts. The area where the mishap occurred is several hundred feet deep, beyond the reach of divers.

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger tweeted on Sunday that the decision was made “after all resources were exhausted.”

“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.”

Those missing and presumed dead include:

• Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 19, of Corona, California.
• Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, California.
• Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
• Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon.
• Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas.
• Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Oregon.
• Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, California.
• U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, California.

During a press conference from Camp Pendleton in California last week, Berger said “I’ve directed an immediate suspension of amphibious assault vehicle water operations until the causal factors of this mishap are better understood. All AAVs across the fleet will be inspected.”

Berger said the waterborne operational pause for the Marine Corps’ fleet of more than 800 AAVs is being done “out of an abundance of caution.” Once the cause of the mishap is determined, he said, service leaders will decide whether the vehicle can resume operations at sea.

Until then, and forevermore, we pray those lost will rest in peace.

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