Report: Handling of grenades was 'high-risk' practice

CAMP PENDLETON - Unsafe handling of grenades and poor oversight are two of the conclusions reached in the investigation into a deadly November accident that killed four Camp Pendleton Marines.

A photo released in the report, obtained by Team 10 through a public records request, shows dozens of the actual, unexploded grenades – the type fired by grenade launchers - collected during a range clearing operation in November.

In the report, investigators say four Marines were taking those grenades to a shallow pit just feet away and detonating them.

According to the investigation, a 40 mm grenade round was likely dropped, kicked, or bumped inside the demolition pit, causing an explosion.

That explosion then set off more than 300 rounds near the pit, killing four Marines, including Miguel Ortiz of vista.

Richard Gilbert, a former Camp Pendleton Marine deployed to Iraq as a mortarman, talked to Team 10 about the danger of unexploded munitions, including the grenades.

“You pull the trigger, the firing pin hits the round, and it didn't go off.  So now you don’t know when it’s going to go off next,” said Gilbert.

When the grenades are collected, he says they must be carefully place in the pit.                 

“It's very much an area to be tiptoed around.  You’ve got to be very careful about what you're doing and where you’re stepping,” said Gilbert.

In the Camp Pendleton accident, investigators say they have no definite answers. They've ruled out horseplay and misconduct, but say one witness saw the marines transferring a grenade, hand to hand, instead of placing it on the ground -- a higher-risk practice that is usually avoided.

A captain and master sergeant were removed from their positions.     

“Anytime someone's relieved of duty, it's saying you should have done something better,” said Gilbert.

Brigadier General John Bullard called this a wake-up call, and ordered an immediate review of existing policies.

“Many of the training evolutions we conduct are inherently dangerous, especially when dealing with explosives and munitions. We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of four Marines during a training evolution; their loss is felt throughout the Marine Corps. We offer our heartfelt prayers and thoughts to the family members, and will continue to support them through this difficult time,” said Bullard

Additionally, Bullard directed an immediate review and revision of existing policies and procedures for EOD training aboard all Marine Corps Installations West ranges.

Team 10 talked to the father of Ortiz. He told us he had no comment on the investigation, adding no conclusion can bring his son back.

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