Marine Killed in California ACV Rollover, 14 Sent to Hospitals for Evaluation

December 13, 2023 8:10 PM - Updated: December 15, 2023 2:07 PM
Marine Corps Systems Command awarded a contract to BAE Systems to produce and deliver the Amphibious Combat Vehicle. BAE Photo

A Marine with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit died Tuesday night when an amphibious combat vehicle rolled over during a training event at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, officials said Wednesday.

The Marine Corps is investigating the incident, which sent fourteen other Marines who were in the wheeled vehicle at the time to Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton and local hospitals “for evaluation and treatment,” I Marine Expeditionary Force said in a news release.

“The rollover occurred at around 6 p.m. local time as the vehicle was making a ground movement during training,” officials said in the statement. “The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin.”

As of 1 p.m. Wednesday Pacific time, “11 Marines had been treated and released from the hospital, and one remained in good condition. Two Marines were evaluated at the scene and released back to their unit,” I MEF said in an email response to USNI News. “The Marine who died in the mishap was declared deceased at the scene by EMS (emergency medical response) personnel” from the base fire department, which had responded to the scene.

The incident “took place in Camp Horno during a night movement as part of a 15th MEU training mission,” officials said in the email response.

Camp Horno is the Camp Pendleton home to 1st Marine Regiment and its infantry battalions.

The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit has been conducting training around southern California ahead of a scheduled overseas deployment as part of the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group. The 15th MEU includes the command element, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, Combat Logistics Battalion 15 and Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 165 (Reinforced). The 15th MEU has been doing integrated training with the San Diego-based ARG that includes the big-deck assault ship USS Boxer (LHD-4), amphibious transport dock USS Somerset (LPD-25) and amphibious dock landing ship USS Harpers Ferry (LSD-49).

The 15th MEU is scheduled to be the first to deploy overseas with a platoon of ACVs, the eight-wheeled vehicles that the Marine Corps is fielding to replace the aging, tracked amphibious assault vehicles, or AAVs.

The planned first shipboard deployment was delayed following several incidents during amphibious operations training in 2022, when ACVs rolled over in the surf zone. Those incidents prompted pauses in waterborne operations and, along with the July 2020 fatal sinking of an AAV off Southern California, led the Marine Corps to revamp driver training and operations of the ACV and bolster safety measures during amphibious operations.

The service stood up a new training unit in April at the Assault Amphibian School, the community’s schoolhouse at Camp Pendleton, to train and re-certify ACV operators and focus on safe operations on land and in the water, officials said at the time.

News of the latest rollover is raising doubts about the vehicle, related safety measures and the training the Marine Corps has been implementing.

The rollover raises questions for Michael H.C. McDowell, whose son, 1st Lt. H. Conor McDowell, died in May 2019 after a wheeled light armored vehicle (LAV) rolled over after driving into a crevasse at Camp Pendleton while training with the 1st Light Armored Vehicle Battalion.

McDowell, who has tracked fatal rollovers involving military tactical vehicles since 2019, has been among the leading advocates for more transparency, safety measures and inspections. The ensuing safety campaign, which included families’ testimonies to congressional subcommittees,

A 2021 report on training accidents by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that rollovers accounted for 66 of 104 fatal accidents – or 63 percent – that involved Marine Corps and Army vehicles from Fiscal Year 2010 to FY 2019. The GAO found cases of poos risk management. Marines and soldiers interviewed spoke about hazards like speed, haste and driver experience, equipment maintenance and safety equipment like restraints, and inconsistent use of ground guides and regular pre-mission briefings.

“Were there adequate range inspections? Was it a water hazard? How did somebody get killed? Were they inside the vehicle? Were they not wearing a helmet?” McDowell asked.
“All this stuff is supposed to be tightened.”

He pointed to the the most-recent fatal rollover involving a military tactical vehicle, which happened in October with an Air Force Humvee. The driver, an airman from Maelstrom Air Force Base, was killed and another injured in the incident in Montana.

“The range, if it’s not inspected for hazards, can be dangerous,” added McDowell. “After rains or other weather conditions, it changes. That’s what happened with Conor, and it’s happened with others.”

Gidget Fuentes

Gidget Fuentes

Gidget Fuentes is a freelance writer based in San Diego, Calif. She has spent more than 20 years reporting extensively on the Marine Corps and the Navy, including West Coast commands and Pacific regional issues.

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