Search and rescue for missing service members concludes

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U.S. Marines with All-Domain Reconnaissance Detachment, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit secure a rescue spine board to a combat rubber raiding craft in the well deck of the amphibious landing dock USS Somerset (LPD 25) to conduct search and rescue operations following an AAV-P7/A1 assault amphibious vehicle mishap off the coast of Southern California, July 30, 2020. Assisting in the search and rescue operations are the guided-missile destroyer USS John Finn (DDG 113), multiple U.S. Navy MH-60 helicopters and multiple small boats from the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD 8), the amphibious transport dock USS San Diego (LPD 22), and USS Somerset, as well as the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Forrest Rednour and a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Coast Guard Sector San Diego. (Marine Corps photograph by Staff Sgt. Kassie McDole)
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After an extensive 40-hour search, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, 1 Marine Expeditionary Force, and the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group concluded their search and rescue operation for seven missing Marines and one Sailor, Aug. 2.

All eight service members are presumed deceased. The 15th MEU and the ARG leadership determined that there was little probability of a successful rescue given the circumstances of the incident. 

Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels, Texas, was pronounced dead at the scene, the Marine expeditionary unit said. Perez was a rifleman with Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team. 

A U.S. Navy MH-60 helicopter conducts aerial search and rescue while Sailors operate a rigid-hull inflatable boat during search and rescue operations following an AAV-P7/A1 assault amphibious vehicle mishap off the coast of Southern California, July 30, 2020. (Marine Corps photograph by Staff Sgt. Kassie McDole)

The eight others presumed dead were identified as: Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 19, of Corona, Calif.; Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, Calif.; Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisc.; U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, Calif.; Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Ore.; Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas; Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Ore.; and Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, Calif. 

A Marine rifleman and a Marine assault amphibious vehicle crew member were also injured, but were not identified. In total, 16 personnel were aboard the vehicle around 5:45 p.m. when they reported taking on water while conducting shore-to-shore waterborne operations training near San Clemente Island. 

On July 30, 15 Marines and one Sailor were participating in a routine training exercise off the coast of San Clemente Island, Calif., when the amphibious assault vehicle they were riding in, began to take on water and sank. Of the 16 service members, eight Marines were rescued, one died and two others are in critical condition at a local hospital.

A U.S. Navy MH-60 Seahawk lands aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD-8) during search and rescue operations following an AAV-P7/A1 assault amphibious vehicle mishap off the coast of Southern California, July 30, 2020. (Marine Corps photograph by Cpl. Patrick Crosley)

“It is with a heavy heart, that I decided to conclude the search and rescue effort,” said Col. Christopher Bronzi, 15th MEU commanding officer. “The steadfast dedication of the Marines, Sailors. and Coast Guardsmen to the persistent rescue effort was tremendous.” 

Over the course of the at-sea search, Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard helicopter, ships and watercraft searched more than 1,000-square nautical miles. 

Assisting in the search efforts were the USS John Finn, the USS Makin Island, the USS Somerset and the USS San Diego. Eleven U.S. Navy SH-60 helicopters and multiple Navy and Manne Corps small boats were also involved. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Forrest Rednour and a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Coast Guard Sector San Diego assisted as well 
“Our thoughts and prayers have been, and will continue to be with our Marines’ and Sailor’s families during this difficult time,” said Bronzi. “As we turn to recovery operations we will continue our exhaustive search for our missing Marines and Sailor.” 

Efforts will now turn to finding and recovering the Marines and Sailor still missing. Assisting in the recovery efforts is the offshore supply vessel HOS Dominator, as well as Undersea Rescue Command, utilizing their Remotely Operated Vehicle to survey the sea floor. 

The circumstances surrounding the incident are being investigated.
 
 
 

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