LOS ANGELES — The search is still on for eight service members who went missing following a deadly accident during a training exercise off San Clemente Island, officials said Friday.
The incident occurred when an amphibious assault vehicle carrying 15 Marines and one Navy sailor began taking on water at about 5:45 p.m. local time Thursday, according to the United States Marine Corps.
One Marine was taken to Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla and later died. Two others were injured and taken to hospitals where they were listed in critical and stable condition, respectively.
Five other service members were rescued.
The Marines, with support from the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, were still searching for the missing service members as of just after 3 p.m. Friday.
"We have not moved into recovery operations," Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman said during an afternoon press conference. "We're still looking for them."
Osterman said the amphibious assault vehicle "sank completely" more than 1,000 meters offshore and "the assumption is it went all the way to the bottom."
"The AAV is actually in several hundred feet of water — it's really below the depth that a diver can go to," he said.
The name of the Marine who died will be withheld until 24 hours after notification of next of kin, officials said, and "all family members who are affected will be contacted directly by their Marines' chain of command."
All the Marines involved were assigned to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is based out of Camp Pendleton.
"We are deeply saddened by this tragic incident. I ask that you keep our Marines, sailors and their families in your prayers as we continue our search," Col. Christopher Bronzi, 15th MEU Commanding Officer, said in a statement.
The incident is under investigation, according to the Marines. It occurred during what officials called a "15th MEU and Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group routine training exercise in the vicinity of San Clemente Island" — a Navy-owned land mass about 70 miles off the San Diego County coast.
The vessels John Finn, Somerset and San Diego, three Navy MH-60 helicopters, the Coast Guard Cutter Forrest Rednour and a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter are all assisting in the search, according to the Marines.
This isn't the first time Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton have been wounded or killed while training with amphibious assault vehicles, which are armored troop transports that carry small units from ship to shore.
In 2017, 15 Marines were injured when an amphibious assault vehicle caught fire during a training exercise.
Another Marine, Sgt. Wesley Rice, drowned inside an amphibious assault vehicle in 2011 after it sank in a boat basin on base.
Known as "Amtracs" or "hogs," the vehicles weigh at least 48,000 lbs. Upon leaving a ship, the vehicle, which resembles a tank, will drop below the surface of the water before popping back up. They can move about 8 mph at sea and up to 46 mph on land.
The current version of the vehicle is almost 50 years old, though it has been modernized through the years. A replacement, the $15 billion Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, was canceled in 2011 due to budget constraints.
Following Thursday's accident, "we are pausing the waterborne operations for amtracs," Gen. David Berger, the Marine Corps' top officer, said at the news conference.
"Once we determine what the cause was, then we'll make a second decision whether to continue," he said. "This is to ensure, out of an abundance of caution, that we take the time ... and find out what actually happened."
(San Diego Union-Tribune staff writers Andrew Dyer and Phil Diehl contributed to this report.)
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