Human errors, mechanical woes caused Marine tank sinking

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U.S. Marine Corps

FILE - In this Aug. 12, 2020, file photo, provided by the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Marines and sailors carry a casket inside a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, in Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020. The remains included seven Marines and a sailor, who died after a seafaring tank sank off the coast of Southern California last month, were transferred to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for burial preparations. The U.S. Marine Corps is expected to release results of its investigation into a seafaring tank that sunk off San Diego's coast last summer, killing eight Marines and one sailor. (Lance Cpl. Brendan Mullin/U.S. Marine Corps via AP, File)

SAN DIEGO – Inadequate training, shabby maintenance and poor judgment by leaders led to the sinking of a seafaring tank last year off Southern California that killed nine service members, according to findings of a Marine Corps investigation released Thursday.

The report detailed a slew of missteps and oversights that left the crew of the amphibious assault vehicle in the dark and using their cell phone lights to desperately try to find an unmarked escape hatch as they took on water.

“Ultimately this tragic mishap was preventable,” wrote Lt. Gen. Steven R. Rudder, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, in his review of the investigation.

It was one of the deadliest Marine training accidents in decades. Three commanders have been dismissed as a result, including the leader of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit who oversaw the training exercise in the summer of 2020 off San Clemente Island, about 70 miles (113 kilometers) northwest of San Diego. Seven other military personnel faced administrative or disciplinary action.

The training exercise was fraught even before it began. The investigation found inadequate training of the platoon members who were provided 14 amphibious assault vehicles that had not been used in more than a year and were in “poor condition." The platoon made repairs in a rush to meet a deadline, according to the investigation.

The Marines use the vehicles to transport troops and their equipment from Navy ships to land. 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.

During the training exercise the vehicles were headed to a Navy ship after leaving the shores of San Clemente Island on July 30. One of the tanks with three crew members, 12 Marines and one sailor started taking in water shortly after 6 p.m.

A crew member alerted the vehicle commander who only responded “thanks, for letting me know," according to the investigation. The troops should have immediately been ordered to remove their gear and prepare to evacuate, according to military safety procedures.