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7 missing Marines, sailor lost in AAV accident presumed dead

The search for the seven Marines and one sailor lost during an amphibious assault vehicle accident Thursday afternoon was called off Sunday morning, according to Marine Corps officials.

None of the service members were found and they are presumed to be dead, according to a Sunday press release issued by the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, or MEU.

“It is with a heavy heart, that I decided to conclude the search and rescue effort,” Col. Christopher Bronzi, commander of the 15th MEU, said in a press release.

“The steadfast dedication of the Marines, sailors, and Coast Guardsmen to the persistent rescue effort was tremendous,” he said.

The Corps, along with Navy and Coast Guard vessels and aircraft, conducted an “extensive 40-hour” search for the missing troops, covering more than 1,000 nautical miles, according to the press release.

The names of the Marines and sailor will be released 24 hours after next-of kin-notification, according to the press release.

The AAV was returning to the amphibious transport dock Somerset Thursday after completing a training mission with the 15th MEU on San Clemente Island, California.

At around 5:45 p.m. the crew reported that they were taking on water and soon after the vehicle started “rapidly” sinking with all 16 service members onboard, Marine Corps Times previously reported.

Eight of the service members onboard were able to escape and were immediately returned to the Somerset.

Once there, three Marines were rushed to a hospital, where one was soon pronounced dead, Lt. Gen. Joseph L. Osterman, commander of the I Marine Expeditionary Force based in Camp Pendleton, California, said at a Friday evening press conference.

The other two are in critical condition, according to Sunday’s press release.

Assisting in the search efforts were the guided-missile destroyer John Finn, the amphibious assault ship Makin Island, the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock Somerset, and the amphibious transport dock San Dieg, according to the press release, along with 11 Navy SH-60 helicopters and multiple small boats from the Corps and Navy,

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Forrest Rednour and a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter from Coast Guard Sector San Diego also assisted, according to the release.

“The 15th MEU and the ARG leadership determined that there was little probability of a successful rescue given the circumstances of the incident,” the press release said.

“I know all of us in the USMC family are extremely saddened following the announcement of the end of SAR (search and rescue) operations,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger said in a Sunday morning tweet.

“Our prayers continue to be with the family and friends of the 8 Marines and one Sailor we lost.”

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