San Clemente AAV Training Accident – Series of “Cascading Failures”

By Faye Higbee

The 1,743 page report released by the Marine Corps over the San Clemente AAV Training Accident last yeat year revealed startling facts: the AAV should never have left the ramp due to improper maintenance. The men inside were also not properly trained. Proper procedures were not followed. It was described as a series of “cascading failures” – and led to the deaths of 8 Marines and one Sailor. It also led to both the commander of the 15th MEU, Col Christopher Bronzi, and commander of the Landing Battalion 1/4, Lt Col Michael Regner, to be fired, as well as several other individuals.

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San Clemente AAV Training Accident – Cascading Failures

The AAV had issues that should have kept it out of the water entirely. And that AAV wasn’t the only one in horrific shape, as most of them are from 1970s.

“The transmission failed, bilge pumps were unable to expel water rapidly enough due to the transmission failure, and the AAV began to sink.”

Beyond the two potential leaks, the slides into the investigation showed the emergency egress lighting system was stuck in the disabled position, locking the Marines and sailor in darkness while the vehicle rapidly sank off the California coast.

As the vehicle was going down, one of the AAV crewman told the infantry Marines in the back to open the rear hatch so they could escape, a slide into the report said.

When the cargo hatch would not open the crewman attempted to open the hatch himself before discovering that the “handle had spun past the open position due to a broken woodruff key.”

The slides also said the vehicle had lost audio communication with the rest of the unit as it started to sink, causing the Marines to resort to using flags to signal that they were sinking.

Marine Corps Times

As if those things weren’t enough problems for an AAV that was not “mission-ready,” the people issues were worse. The Navy safety boat was not operational that day. Two AAV rescue vehicles arrived about several minutes after the AAV began to sink, one of which collided with the distressed vehicle, pushing it broadside into the choppy water. A large wave hit the broken AAV, sending water flooding through the open hatch and causing it to sink rapidly.

The Marines inside the vehicle were not provided with proper training on what to do in that sort of emergency. They didn’t even know how to properly inflate their life jackets. One of the men couldn’t swim well. They had been given only a SWET chair (Shallow Water Egress Training) instead of a SVET (Submerged Vehicle Egress Training).

The families of those lost were briefed on the report, but it opened up a lot of questions for them, and they plan to talk with their elected Congress members to see about more transparency and accountability so that this doesn’t happen again. (Stripes) The sad fact is that those AAVs are all old and need replacing. The new ACV craft (Amphibious Command Vehicle) will eventually be used for a replacement (USNI).

So they need to know this. They need to know that if they don’t make changes and they continue down the path that they’re going, that more and more parents — as this equipment gets older, and they continue to not follow procedure — more parents are going to be in this position. And that’s unacceptable.

Aleta Bath mother of Evan Bath, one of the Marines who died in the tragedy

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Featured photo: Screenshot U.S. Marines walk to their assault amphibious vehicles before a simulated amphibious breach in California. (Lance Cpl. Rhita Daniel/Marine Corps)