Jumat, 26 Maret 2021

Deadly Marine Corps disaster at sea was ‘tragic’ and ‘preventable,’ investigation finds - The Washington Post

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In the absence of required precautions, a second AAV crew attempted to rescue the first group of Marines. But in heavy surf, their vehicle collided with the first, turning it on its side with an open hatch. A wave swept over the first vehicle, water rushed inside, and it quickly sank, the investigation found.

“The investigation reveals a confluence of human and mechanical failures caused the sinking of the mishap AAV and contributed to a delayed rescue effort, resulting in the deaths of eight Marines and one sailor,” Lt. Gen. Steven R. Rudder, the commanding general of Marine Corps Forces Pacific, said in a memo, calling the disaster “tragic” and “preventable.”

The disaster, one of several during training in recent years, has prompted hard questions about whether the U.S. military has done enough to prioritize the welfare of its people over training requirements.

During a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing this week, Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) said the Government Accountability Office will soon complete an investigation of 4,000 tactical vehicle accidents over the last 10 years that have killed 120 U.S. troops.

The AAV — designed to carry Marines ashore — sank off the coast of San Clemente Island, a Navy-owned training area, on the evening of July 30 as it returned to the USS Somerset. The doomed AAV was among 12 others that had moved from the ship to the island earlier in the day.

The Marines — assigned to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit of Camp Pendleton, Calif. — for months had been having trouble with their AAVs, which were provided to the unit in “poor condition,” the investigation found. On the island, Marines discovered the AAV that soon sank was leaking transmission fluid and added six gallons to keep it going. Other vehicles were held back from returning to the ship.

The doomed AAV began taking on water shortly after returning to the sea. When the water inside reached ankle-deep, the commander of the vehicle climbed on top of it and began waving the “November flag,” used as a sign of distress, the documents said.

But the situation worsened. Lights inside the vehicle were not working, prompting the Marines to use their cellphones as they attempted to open a hatch to get out. The first vehicle was almost completely submerged when the second collided with it, and then another wave crashed on top.

“This wave rapidly filled the troop compartment with water and caused AAV 523519 to assume a nose high pitch angle and rapidly sink,” the investigation found.

Senior Marine officials have responded to the incident by removing several officers involved, including Col. Christopher Bronzi, the commanding officer of the 15th Expeditionary Unit. Lt. Col. Michael Regner, the battalion commander who reported to Bronzi, also was relieved of command.

Rudder and Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, the commanding general of the I Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, also recommended “administrative or disciplinary action” against several lower-ranking Marines, including the commander of the AAV that sank. Documents released on Friday suggest some could face criminal charges of dereliction of duty or negligence, but no charges have been announced.

Rudder also found that Maj. Gen. Robert F. Castellvi, the former commanding general of 1st Marine Division, “bears some responsibility” for training that the AAV unit did not receive. Rudder opted not to discipline Castellvi, who has since become the Marine Corps inspector general.

Marine officers involved in the case raised the possibility that restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic may have limited the ability of the Marines to train with AAVs.

The dead included Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 18, of Corona, Calif.; Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, Calif.; Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wis.; Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, Calif.; Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Ore.; Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels, Tex; Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Tex.; Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 18, of Portland, Ore.; Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, Calif.

Seven other Marines, including the vehicle commander and a member of the AAV crew, survived. Two of the Marines were hospitalized in critical condition, and later released.

Families of the service members killed said they received separate briefings from the Marine Corps on Thursday, and were shocked and angered by what they heard.

Christiana Sweetwood, of Danville, Va., said her son was an “old soul” who had graduated high school early and prepared to join the Marines for years. The majority of the Marines in the vehicle had never trained at sea in an AAV before, she said.

“Why are we sending all of these vehicles out with these boys and no safety precautions in place?” she asked. “This never should have happened. Accountability, there needs to be a lot of that.”

Peter Vienna’s son, Gnem, the lone sailor inside the vehicle, was assigned to provide medical care to the Marines. Vienna said he had been bracing for bad news about how the disaster happened but was still shaken by it.

“Why did this mission go off at all without a safety boat? It’s training. If you have to wait a day, you wait a day,” he said.

Vienna said the Marine Corps gave him about 2,000 pages of investigative documents to read.

“The amount of negligence, the amount of going against policies and procedures, the lack of training,” he said. “Those boys never stood a chance. They never stood a chance of surviving.”

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March 27, 2021 at 06:40AM
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Deadly Marine Corps disaster at sea was ‘tragic’ and ‘preventable,’ investigation finds - The Washington Post

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