SAN DIEGO >> The search continued today for eight U.S. service members missing after their landing craft went down in hundreds of feet of water off the Southern California coast following a deadly accident.
Helicopters and boats ranging from inflatables to a Navy destroyer were searching a roughly 200-square-mile area for seven Marines and a Navy corpsman.
They were aboard an amphibious assault vehicle that had just completed a training exercise when it began taking on water about a half-mile (0.8 kilometers) from Navy-owned San Clemente Island, off of San Diego.
>> PHOTOS: Amphibious assault vehicle sinks off coast of Southern California with 16 aboard
The 26-ton, tank-like craft quickly sank in hundreds of feet of water — too deep for divers — making it difficult to reach.
One of eight Marines rescued from the water later died.
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, Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commanding general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said earlier this week.
The craft was one of 13 amphibious assault vehicles that participated in the routine exercise and was heading back to a Navy ship when the accident happened.
Troops on board two other amphibious assault vehicles responded quickly but couldn’t stop the sinking, Osterman said.
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.
On Friday, the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. David Berger, suspended waterborne operations of all of its more than 800 amphibious assault vehicles across the branch until the cause of the accident is determined. He said the move was out of “an abundance of caution.”
It was the deadliest of several accidents involving amtracs that have occurred during Camp Pendleton exercises in recent years.
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 in a training exercise sank offshore of the camp.
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