The seven Marines and sailor missing after their amphibious assault vehicle sank off the California coast are presumed dead as search and rescue operation ended, I Marine Expeditionary Force said in a late Saturday statement.
"The 15th [Marine Expeditionary Unit and the [Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group] leadership determined that there was little probability of a successful rescue given the circumstances of the incident," the statement reads. "All eight service members are presumed deceased."
Fifteen Marines and the sailor aboard the AAV were returning to amphibious warship USS Somerset after operating on San Clemente Island when the AAV began to take on water, Marine officials told reporters on Friday.
Eight Marines were rescued. One Marine later died from his injuries. As of Friday, two more Marines were in critical condition at Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, Calif. The other five have returned to their unit.
IMEF it says is withholding the names of the Marines and sailor until 24 hours after next of kin notification.
Now the Marines and the Navy are working to recover the bodies of the missing service members and find the AAV that sank in hundreds of feet of water off San Clemente Island.
"Our thoughts and prayers have been and will continue to be with our Marines' and sailor's families during this difficult time," Col. Christopher Bronzi, 15th MEU Commanding Officer, said in a statement.
"As we turn to recovery operations we will continue our exhaustive search for our missing Marines and sailor."
The Navy dispatched submarine search and rescue ship HOS Dominator to assist in the recovery on Friday. The ship, assigned to as Undersea Rescue Command, is equipped with remotely operated underwater vehicles and other specialized undersea equipment.
Since Sunday morning, the ship has been operating off the West coast of the Island
Additionally, Guided-missile destroyer USS John Finn (DDG-113); amphibious warships USS Makin Island (LHD-8), USS Somerset (LPD-25) and USS San Diego LPD-22; and Coast Guard cutter USCGC Forrest Rednour (WPC-1129) are searching for the missing service members. Additionally, three Navy MH-60 helicopters, a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk and small boats embarked from Makin Island had participated in the 40-hour search.
In response to the incident, the Marines have suspended AAV water operations.
Undersea support ship HOS Dominator. MSC Photo
The following is the complete statement from IMEF issued on Saturday.
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (Aug. 1, 2020) After an extensive 40-hour search, the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), I Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), and the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) concluded their search and rescue operation for seven missing Marines and one Sailor today.
All eight service members are presumed deceased. The 15th MEU and the ARG leadership determined that there was little probability of a successful rescue given the circumstances of the incident.
On July 30, 15 Marines and one Sailor were participating in a routine training exercise off the coast of San Clemente Island, California, when the amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) they were riding in began to take on water and sank. Of the 16 service members, eight Marines were rescued, one died, and two others are in critical condition at a local hospital.
"It is with a heavy heart, that I decided to conclude the search and rescue effort," said Col. Christopher Bronzi, 15th MEU Commanding Officer. "The steadfast dedication of the Marines, Sailors, and Coast Guardsmen to the persistent rescue effort was tremendous."
Over the course of the at-sea search, Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard helicopters, ships, and watercraft searched more than 1,000 square nautical miles.
Assisting in the search efforts were the USS John Finn, the USS Makin Island, the USS Somerset, and the USS San Diego. Eleven U.S. Navy SH-60 helicopters and multiple Navy and Marine Corps small boats were also involved. The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Forrest Rednour and a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Coast Guard Sector San Diego assisted as well.
"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."
Efforts will now turn to finding and recovering the Marines and Sailor still missing. Assisting in the recovery efforts is the offshore supply vessel HOS Dominator, as well as Undersea Rescue Command, utilizing their Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) to survey the sea floor.
The circumstances surrounding the incident are being investigated.
The names of the Marines and Sailor will be released 24 hours after next of kin notification.