The U.S. Marine Corps announced it will stop a search for eight missing troops that were on board a landing craft that sank off the coast of Southern California, it was announced Sunday.
“It is with a heavy heart that I decided to conclude the search and rescue effort,” said Col. Christopher Bronzi, commander of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, in a news release on Sunday morning. “The steadfast dedication of the Marines, Sailors. and Coast Guardsmen to the persistent rescue effort was tremendous.”
Seven Marines and one sailor are presumed dead, the Marines added in the release. More than 1,000 square nautical miles were searched over the past two days.
They went missing after a routine training exercise went awry off San Clemente Island, California, the news release said. Their amphibious assault vehicle started taking on water and later sank.
“Of the 16 service members, eight Marines were rescued, one died and two others are in critical condition at a local hospital,” the Marines said.
The military will now attempt to find and recover the remains of the Marines and sailor.
“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.”
The names of the Marines and sailor have not been released. The incident is currently under investigation.
All of the Marines aboard were attached to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at nearby Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego. They ranged in age from 19 to early 30s and all were wearing combat gear, including body armor and flotation vests, according to Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
The craft was one of 13 amphibious assault vehicles that had just completed an exercise. It was heading back to a Navy ship when the accident occurred.
The vehicle, nicknamed an “amtrac”—short for “amphibious tractor”—was designed to be buoyant and had three water-tight hatches and two large troop hatches. The Marines use the vehicles to transport troops and their equipment from Navy ships to land. The vehicles have been used since 1972, and continually refurbished.
In 2017, 14 Marines and one Navy sailor were hospitalized after their vehicle hit a natural gas line at the camp, igniting a fire that engulfed the landing craft. And in 2011, a Marine died when an amphibious assault vehicle sank offshore of the camp in a training exercise.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.