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Esper: Nation grieves over 9 service members killed in training

Aug. 3 (UPI) — Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Monday the United States grieves the deaths of eight Marines and a Sailor who were killed over the weekend when their amphibious assault vehicle sank off the coast of California’s San Clemente Island.

“A grateful nation and the Department of Defense grieves the tragic loss of the Marines and Sailor lost in the amphibious assault vehicle accident off the coast of San Clemente Island,” Esper said in a statement. “Our prayers and condolences are with the family and friends of these brave young men.”

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Only one body has been recovered and the other service members are presumed dead after an extensive 40-hour search was called off and became a recovery mission on Sunday after the vessel sank with 15 Marines and one Navy sailor on board during a training exercise in California on Thursday.

Eight Marines were rescued, including one who had died. Two others injured in the incident were transferred to the hospital, including a Marine rifleman listed as in critical condition.

“I know all of us in the USMC family are extremely saddened following the announcement of the end of SAR operations,” U.S. Marines Corps Commandant David H. Berger said in a statement. “This difficult decision was made after all resources were exhausted. Our prayers continue to be with the family and friends of the eight Marines and one sailor we lost.”

Marine officials identified the servicemembers who are presumed dead as Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 19, of Corona, Calif.; Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, Calif.; Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wis.; U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, Calif.; Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Ore.; Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas; Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Ore.; and Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, Calif.

Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, a rifleman from New Braunfels, Texas, was pronounced dead at the scene before being transported by helicopter to the Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego, the MarineExpeditionary Force said via Twitter.

“Their service, commitment and courage will always be remembered by the nation they served,” Esper said. “While the incident remains under investigation, I want to assure our service members and their families that we are committed to gathering all the facts, understanding exactly how this incident occurred and preventing similar tragedies in the future.”

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