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Navy, Marines Locate Sunken AAV, Human Remains

Undersea Rescue Command deploys the Sibitzky Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) from the deck of the Military Sealift Command-chartered merchant vessel HOS Dominator on Aug. 3, 2020. Undersea Rescue Command is aiding in recovery of the missing seven Marines and one Sailor from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. US Navy photo.

The Navy and Marine Corps identified the location of the amphibious assault vehicle that sank off the coast of San Clemente Island last week using a remotely operated search and rescue system.

Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard ships and aircraft had been searching for the vehicle and seven missing Marines and one sailor since an AAV began taking on water during a July 30 training incident, as the vehicle was leaving the California island and heading towards USS Somerset (LPD-25). The Navy’s Undersea Rescue Command joined in the effort with its Sibitzky Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) operating from the deck of the Military Sealift Command-chartered merchant vessel HOS Dominator.

The services announced today that they confirmed the location of the AAV and that the ROV confirmed the presence of human remains at that location.

“The Navy has expedited the movement of assets to recover the remains of the Marines and Sailor, as well as raise the AAV. The equipment to properly and safely perform the recovery from the sea floor will be in place at the end of this week, and a dignified transfer of our Marines and Sailor will occur as soon as possible after the conclusion of recovery operations,” reads a Marine Corps news release.

“The AAV sunk to a depth of approximately 385 feet after taking on water during a shore-to-ship maneuver approximately 1,500 meters off the coast of San Clemente Island,” the release adds, correcting its original statement that the AAV sank in about 600 feet of water.
“One Marine was pronounced dead at the scene, and seven missing Marines and one Sailor were subsequently presumed dead Aug. 2 as search and rescue efforts ceased.”

The Marines and the Navy hospital corpsman in the AAV during the accident were assigned to 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), which falls under I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF) and was training ahead of a deployment with the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG).

Sailors from Undersea Rescue Command deploy the Sibitzky Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) from the deck of the Military Sealift Command-chartered merchant vessel HOS Dominator on Aug. 2, 2020. Undersea Rescue Command is aiding in recovery of the missing seven Marines and one Sailor from the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. US Navy photo.

The Marine Corps has paused all AAV operations until the service better understands what led to the sinking of the aging but safe ship-to-shore connector.

San Clemente Island sits about 78 miles west of Camp Pendleton and is managed by the Navy. It is home to live-fire gunnery and bombardment ranges, a naval special warfare training complex, an airfield and several beaches Marines use for amphibious assaults training.

Dominator happened to already be in the water when the mishap occurred and was able to quickly join the search, USNI News previously reported. Dominator is contracted for use by San Diego-based Submarine Squadron 11 and the Navy’s Undersea Rescue Command and is based at Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado, Calif.

“Undersea Rescue Command was underway conducting routine training operations near San Clemente Island when they were diverted to aid in the search and rescue efforts,” according to a statement provided to USNI News.
“For this particular search and rescue mission, Undersea Rescue Command used the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to survey the seafloor of the affected area.”

Categories: News & Analysis, U.S. Marine Corps
Megan Eckstein

About Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is the deputy editor for USNI News. She previously covered Congress for Defense Daily and the U.S. surface navy and U.S. amphibious operations as an associate editor for Inside the Navy.