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Military officials: Remains of service members in training accident off San Clemente Island located

Posted at 1:42 PM, Aug 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-04 16:55:40-04

(KGTV) – Military officials said search teams identified the location off San Clemente Island where an amphibious assault vehicle sank last week, resulting in the deaths of eight service members from a Camp Pendleton-based unit.

I Marine Expeditionary Force said Tuesday the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group “positively identified on Aug. 3 the location of the amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) that sunk off the coast of San Clemente Island on July 30.”

Officials also said the Navy's Undersea Rescue Command “confirmed human remains were identified with remotely-operated video systems aboard HOS Dominator, an undersea search & rescue ship. The Navy has expedited the movement of assets to recover the remains of the Marines and Sailor, and raise the AAV.”

Military officials said the AAV was participating in a training exercise when it started taking on water for unknown reasons at around 5:45 p.m. on July 30. Officials confirmed the AAV sunk 385 feet upon taking on water during a shore-to-ship manuever.

Seven members of the Camp Pendleton-based crew survived the accident. Medics took two of them to Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla, where both were admitted in critical status. One was upgraded to stable condition as of Sunday night, Marine officials said.

The other five rescued Marines received clean bills of health and returned to their units.

Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez of New Braunfels, Texas, was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. Perez was a rifleman with Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team 1/4, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

The 15th MEU, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group worked for nearly two days to locate more survivors, but they concluded the search-and-rescue operation Saturday after 40 hours of searching across 1,324 square miles.

The other eight lost service members were identified as:

-- Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 18, of Corona, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU

-- Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU

-- Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU

-- Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, a Navy hospital corpsman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU

-- Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU

-- Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU

-- Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Oregon, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU

-- Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU

"Our thoughts and prayers have been, and will continue to be with our Marines' and sailor's families during this difficult time," said Col. Christopher Bronzi, commanding officer of the 15th MEU. "The steadfast dedication of the Marines, sailors and Coast Guardsmen to the persistent rescue effort was tremendous."

In a prepared statement released Monday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said "(a) grateful nation and the Department of Defense grieves the tragic loss ... of these brave young men."

"Their service, commitment and courage will always be remembered by the nation they served," Esper said. "While the incident remains under investigation, I want to assure our service members and their families that we are committed to gathering all the facts, understanding exactly how this incident occurred and preventing similar tragedies in the future."

City News Service contributed to this report