1 Marine dead, eight troops missing after training accident off Southern California coast

One U.S. Marine has died and eight service members are missing after an 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. Thursday during a training exercise, 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.

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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.

Search-and-rescue efforts were continuing Friday morning with support from the Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, according to the Marines.

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“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.

A Marines spokesman said there were no additional updates regarding the incident as of 8:18 a.m.

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.

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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.

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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.

San Diego Union-Tribune staff writer Andrew Dyer contributed to this report.

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