UPDATED 1:38 p.m., Monday, August 3, 2020 - The identities of eight of the troops presumed dead, and one Marine who was killed, after a landing craft sank off the Southern California coast during a training exercise have been released by officials.
Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels, Texas, was pronounced dead at the scene before being transported by helicopter to Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego. He was a rifleman with Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 1/4, 15th MEU.
The presumed dead identified by officials are:
Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 19, of Corona, California, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, California, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, California, a hospital corpsman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Oregon, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, California, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
NBC 7 spoke with the family of Cesar Villanueva. His mom remembers him as a kind, respectable person who was very outgoing.
"He was calm and outgoing. He wanted to enter the Marines because he wanted to serve his country," Maria Villanueva said.
The fifteen Marines and one sailor were inside the AAV when they reported taking on water at approximately 5:45 p.m Thursday. The group was traveling from the shores of San Clemente Island, approximately 78 miles off the coast of San Diego, to a Navy ship when the AVV started sinking about halfway through their training routine, according to Lt. Cameron H. Edinburgh, a Marine Corps spokesman for Camp Pendleton.
The 26-ton, tank-like craft sank in hundreds of feet of water — too deep for divers — making it difficult to reach.
Eight Marines were rescued from the sunken AVV. Two of them were taken to Scripps Memorial Hospital in critical condition.
The injured were later identified as a Marine rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU, and a Marine assault amphibious vehicle crewmember with Mechanized Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU. The Marine crewmember has since been upgraded to stable condition per a competent medical authority, according to officials.
On Saturday, the Marine Corps called off the search and presumed the missing are dead.
MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – 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 on Sunday.
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 that are 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 seafloor.
The circumstances surrounding the incident are being investigated.
The names of the Marines and sailor will be released 24 hours after the next of kin are notified.