The identities of eight of the troops presumed dead, and one Marine who was killed, after a landing craft sank off the Southern California coast during a training exercise have been released by officials.
Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels, Texas, was pronounced dead at the scene before being transported by helicopter to Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego. He was a rifleman with Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 1/4, 15th MEU.
The presumed dead identified by officials are:
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Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 19, of Corona, California, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, California, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, California, a hospital corpsman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Oregon, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, California, a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.
NBC 7 spoke with the family of Cesar Villanueva. His mom remembers him as a kind, respectable person who was very outgoing.
"He was calm and outgoing. He wanted to enter the Marines because he wanted to serve his country," Maria Villanueva said.
The fifteen Marines and one sailor were inside the AAV when they reported taking on water at approximately 5:45 p.m Thursday. The group was traveling from the shores of San Clemente Island, approximately 78 miles off the coast of San Diego, to a Navy ship when the AVV started sinking about halfway through their training routine, according to Lt. Cameron H. Edinburgh, a Marine Corps spokesman for Camp Pendleton.
The 26-ton, tank-like craft sank in hundreds of feet of water — too deep for divers — making it difficult to reach.
Eight Marines were rescued from the sunken AVV. Two of them were taken to Scripps Memorial Hospital in critical condition.
The injured were later identified as a Marine rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU, and a Marine assault amphibious vehicle crewmember with Mechanized Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU. The later has since been upgraded to stable condition per a competent medical authority, according to officials.
On Saturday, the Marine Corps called off the search and presumed the missing are dead.
“It is with a heavy heart that I decided to conclude the search and rescue effort," said Col. Christopher Bronzi, commander of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Efforts will now turn to finding and recovering the service members and investigating the circumstances surrounding the sinking, officials said.
The vehicle, nicknamed an “amtrac” -- short for “amphibious tractor” -- was designed to be buoyant and had three water-tight hatches and two large troop hatches. The Marines use the vehicles to transport troops and their equipment from Navy ships to land.
The vehicles have been used since 1972, and continually refurbished.
The Marine Corps commandant, Gen. David Berger, suspended waterborne operations of all of its more than 800 amphibious assault vehicles across the branch until the cause of the accident is determined. He said the move was out of “an abundance of caution.”
It was the deadliest of several accidents involving amtracs that have occurred during Camp Pendleton exercises in recent years.