Three Southern California Marines are among the eight service members presumed dead off San Clemente Island following a training accident last week.
The Marines and sailor have been missing since Thursday, July 30, when their seafaring vehicle — known as an AAV — took on water and sank during a routine training exercise near the island. The Navy-owned island is about 50 miles west of Orange County and 20 miles south of Catalina Island. It is the only ship-to-shore live-fire training range in the nation.
The AAV and 12 others had just left the island’s beaches and were heading out to the USS Somerset, an amphibious transport dock. They had spent the day training on the island.
Eight other Marines managed to jump from the sinking AAV. One Marine later died at the scene and two others were flown via helicopter to Scripps Memorial Hospital in critical condition.
Early Sunday, officials announced that after a 40-hour search and rescue effort involving multiple Navy ships, Navy and Marine Corps helicopters and U.S. Coast Guard vessels, the mission had turned to recovery.
On Sunday night, officials with command elements from the training exercise identified one Marine who was killed and seven Marines and one sailor who are now presumed dead.
Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels, Texas, was pronounced dead at the scene on Thursday, July 30, before being flown to Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego.
Presumed dead are:
Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 19, of Corona; Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello; Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wis.; U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton; 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 Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside.
All of the Marines were based at Camp Pendleton and were part of the 3rd Amphibian Assault Battalion. They were infantrymen who served with Battalion Landing Team 1/4. All were attached to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Names of two injured Marines were not immediately released. Both remain hospitalized at Scripps Memorial Hospital.
A Navy ship, used for submarine rescue, is now involved in looking for the missing service members and the AAV.
MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR — The identities of four Marines killed when their CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crashed near El Centro, near the Mexican border, this week were confirmed by military officials Thursday, April 5.
The Marines are identified as pilot Capt. Samuel A. Schultz, 28, of Huntington Valley, Penn. and co-pilot First Lt. Samuel D. Phillips, 27, of Pinehurst, N.C. Two crew chiefs — Gunnery Sgt. Derik R. Holley, 33, of Dayton, Ohio and Lance Cpl. Joseph Conrad, 24, of Baton Rouge, La. — also were killed.
First Lt. Samuel D. Phillips, 27, of Pinehurst, N.C. (Courtesy of USMC)
Lance Cpl. Joseph Conrad, 24, of Baton Rouge, La. (Courtesy of USMC)
Capt. Samuel A. Schultz, 28, of Huntington Valley, Penn. (Courtesy of USMC)
Gunnery Sgt. Derik R. Holley, 33, of Dayton, Ohio. (Courtesy of USMC)
The four Marines were assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 465, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
They departed the Strategic Expeditionary Landing Field at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms on Tuesday for squadron training, which included aircraft landings in “unimproved zones” — unpaved areas — said Capt. Morgan Frazer, with the 3rd MAW. The crash occurred at 2:35 p.m. approximately 15 miles west of El Centro.
Military investigators continue to probe what led to the deadly incident.
“The loss of our Marines weighs heavy on our hearts,” said Maj. Gen. Mark Wise, commanding general of 3rd MAW. “Our priority is to provide support for our families and HMH-465 during this critical time.”
Schultz joined the Marine Corps in May 2012. His previous duty stations included Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla.; Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas; and MCAS New River, N.C. He also deployed with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.
Phillips joined in August 2013. He previously served at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Naval Air Station Corpus Christi and Marine Corps Air Station New River.
Holley, a highly decorated Marine with nearly 15 years in the Marine Corps, joined in November 2003. His duty stations included Marine Corps Base Quantico and MCAS Miramar. Holley deployed to Iraq twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, to Japan as part of the Unit Deployment Program, and with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit. He was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Air Medal-Strike/Flight, and the Navy and Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal.
Conrad joined the Marine Corps in May 2016.
“The hardest part of being a Marine is the tragic loss of life of a fellow brother-in-arms,” said Col. Craig Leflore, commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 16. “My deepest sympathies go out to the families and friends of Capt. Samuel Shultz, First Lt. Samuel Phillips, Gunnery Sgt. Derik Holley, and Lance Cpl. Taylor Conrad. These ‘Warhorse’ Marines brought joy and laughter to so many around them. They each served honorably, wore the uniform proudly and were a perfect example of what makes our Marine Corps great — its people. They will forever be in our hearts and minds.”
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump tweeted, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the four U.S. Marines from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing who lost their lives in yesterday’s Southern California helicopter crash. We pray for their families, and our great @USMC.”
Our thoughts and prayers are with the four U.S. Marines from the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing who lost their lives in yesterday’s Southern California helicopter crash. We pray for their families, and our great @USMC.
Trump recently visited Miramar and spoke to hundreds from the 3rd MAW, promising new aircraft and financial support.
Tuesday’s helicopter crash near the San Diego-Mexico border is the deadliest Marine Corps crash since 15 Marines and one sailor died when the C-130 in which they were flying crashed into a Mississippi bean field in July.
Capt. Sean Endecott Elliott, whose parents live in San Juan Capistrano, was the co-pilot in that crash. He was part of the Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 452, a reserve KC-130T squadron based out of Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, N.Y.
The plane flew from there to Cherry Point, N.C., where it picked up six Marines and a Navy corpsman from Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command’s elite 2nd Marine Raider Battalion. It was headed to Yuma for pre-deployment training.
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Tuesday’s crash was one of three U.S. military aircraft training accidents in three days, resulting in a total of five deaths. Also, on Tuesday, a Marine Corps AV-8B Harrier jet crashed in Djibouti in East Africa. The crash occurred during a training exercise and the pilot was able to eject.
On Wednesday, a U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds pilot died when his F-16 crashed at Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas, according to defense officials.
The three crashes in three days mirror the surge in non-combat aircraft mishaps in the military.
Sen. John McCain addressed the trend on Twitter, Thursday:
“Praying for the family & friends of @AFThunderbirds pilot killed in F-16 crash in #Nevada. With more service members dying in routine training accidents than in combat, we must do everything to ensure our military has the training, equipment & resources it needs,” he tweeted.
Praying for the family & friends of @AFThunderbirds pilot killed in F-16 crash in #Nevada. With more service members dying in routine training accidents than in combat, we must do everything to ensure our military has the training, equipment & resources it needs.