The Marine Corps found itself explaining yesterday how two of its armored vehicles got stuck on the beach for several hours after some driver training near the Kahe Point power station took a decidedly wrong turn.
"They have no business being on the beach. There is at least one burial in that area. Fortunately, they were away from it," said Waianae Coast activist William Aila Jr.
Aila said he spotted one of the big vehicles at about 2 p.m. stuck up nearly to its floorboards in the sand, another with its front wheels partly buried, and a third vehicle attempting to pull them out.
The stuck vehicles were a good 50 yards off Farrington Highway, had driven another 50 yards on a dirt road and traveled 75 yards more on the sand before getting stuck about 30 feet from the surf, Aila said.
Adding further embarrassment to the mired misery were the red caution signs on the front of the vehicles that said, "Student Driver."
The Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected All Terrain Vehicles or M-ATVs were just west of the power plant at a Nanakuli surfing spot known as Tracks, where multiple vehicles have driven before on the beach—and also got stuck.
But Maj. Alan Crouch, a spokesman for Marine Corps Base Hawaii, said there was a good reason the three Marine vehicles had strayed onto the beach.
The three Marine instructors, with six Army soldiers along, were conducting convoy training when they reached an accident in the road, he said.
Honolulu police directed the miniconvoy to make a U-turn, and because the vehicles are much bigger than most cars, their wider turning radius took them onto the beach and they got stuck, Crouch said. There was "absolutely" no wrongdoing, he said.
"There was nothing intentional about this," Crouch said. "They were simply trying to follow directions. … They ran off into the sand. I’m sure they were not expecting to get stuck."
Crouch did not have the details of the accident, and directed questions to HPD.
"I think if they made a U-turn on a four-lane highway, they would have had more than enough room," Aila said.
Neither the Waianae nor Kapolei police substation could confirm last night whether there was an accident. HPD traffic investigations said the only way they would have gotten involved was if there was a critical or fatal accident, but that was not the case.
The troops dug with shovels, and by about 4:45 p.m. they were able to dig and pull the stuck vehicles out. Beach campers looked on from a nearby awning.
Afterward the soldiers and Marines shoveled sand back in place to restore the beach and remove their tracks.
The 25,000-pound M-ATVs are slightly smaller than the hulking MRAP armored vehicles that the Army and Marines have used in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both vehicles offer greater troop protection in part because they have a V-shaped hull that deflects a blast up the sides of the vehicle and away from occupants.
On June 30, 2009, the Pentagon announced it had selected the Oshkosh Corp. to supply M-ATVs, with an initial delivery order for 2,244 vehicles valued at $1.05 billion.
Crouch said the Marine Corps has five M-ATVs at its Kaneohe base and that the vehicles are used for driver familiarization training.