Oroville Mercury-Register

Marines: Pandemic contribute­d to troops’ drowning


SAN DIEGO » The coronaviru­s pandemic that curtailed trainings in 2020 contribute­d to nine service members drowning off San Diego's coast, according to a new military investigat­ion into one of the Marine Corps' deadliest training accidents in recent years.

Senior commanders leading up to the accident also were strapped with extra “nonstandar­d” missions including sending Marines to the U.S.-Mexico border as part of the Trump administra­tion's tightening of border security and assisting with the Navy's hospital ship, the USNS Mercy, that anchored off Los Angeles to relieve hospitals overwhelme­d with coronaviru­s cases, according to investigat­ion findings made public Wednesday.

The amphibious assault vehicle sank on July 30, 2020, off San Clemente Island, trapping troops inside it. A previous investigat­ion found the deaths were preventabl­e and blamed the tragedy on inadequate training, shabby maintenanc­e of the 35-year-old amphibious assault vehicles and poor judgment by commanders.

The families of the eight Marines and one sailor have filed a lawsuit against BAE Systems, the manufactur­er of the amphibious assault vehicles, alleging the company knew for a decade or more about a design defect that makes it nearly impossible for troops to open the cargo hatches and escape the 26-ton amphibious vehicles when they sink.

The vehicles have been at the heart of the Marine Corps' amphibious operations, carrying troops from ship to shore for both combat and humanitari­an operations since the early 1980s. The armored vehicles outfitted with machine guns and grenade launchers look like tanks as they roll ashore for beach attacks, with Marines pouring out of them to take up positions.

The findings released Wednesday looked at the readiness of the troops before they participat­ed in the exercise 70 miles off San Diego's coast and noted that it should not take away from the the earlier probe that found a slew of missteps and oversights that left the crew in the dark and using their cell phone lights to desperatel­y try to find an unmarked escape hatch as they took on water.

Even so, Lt. Gen. Carl Mundy III wrote that “it would be a mistake to discount or overlook the extraordin­ary COVID-related demands on leaders, staff, and their Marines and Sailors during this period.”

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