The U.S. Marine Corps has concluded its latest investigation into the 2020 accident that cost nine service members their lives, finding that the coronavirus pandemic and burnout contributed to it.
Lt. Gen. Carl Mundy III found it would be "a mistake to discount or overlook" the stress on the officers on the 26-ton amphibious assault vehicle that sank near San Clemente Island on July 30, 2020.
"The claims on their time and attention surfaced in a number of interviews with several senior officers who described the conditions during this period as second only to their experience in combat," Mundy said in the concluding report that was published on Wednesday. "The claims on their time and attention surfaced in a number of interviews with several senior officers who described the conditions during this period as second only to their experience in combat."
A previous Marine Corps investigation found that the deaths were "preventable," according to the Washington Post. Numerous officials were removed from their roles after the fatal tragedy, including Maj. Gen. Robert Castellvi, who was the commanding general of the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton at the time.
At the time of the accident, the Marines had a number of "non-standard" missions that strained resources, including assignments along the U.S.-Mexico border, and they were "planning for major combat operations due to heightened tensions with Iran in January 2020," Mundy added.
This investigation was released the same day the Navy did the same with a companion inquiry.
Rear. Adm. Christopher Sweeney, the Navy's investigator, found that the commanding officer at the time, Navy Capt. Dave Kurtz "did not fully understand communications pathways" between the ship and other vehicles included in the operation.
Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener told reporters that several people faced administrative action, though no Navy personnel were removed from their jobs, according to the Washington Post.
"This tragedy should never have occurred," Kitchener said. "We will not let the lives be lost in vain. We have learned from this, and we will permanently improve the way we plan and execute amphibious operations."
The service members who died in the accident were: Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 18, of Corona, California.; Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, California.; Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin.; Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, California.; Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon.; Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels, Texas; Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas.; Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 18, of Portland, Oregon.; and Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, California.
The Marine Corps and Navy personnel are conducting a review of Amphibious Operations.
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