Esper Sends Condolences to 9 Service Members Killed in Accident Off California Coast

August 4, 2020 Updated: August 4, 2020

Secretary of Defense Mark Esper issued a statement dedicated to the families and friends of nine service members who died in an accident off the coast of San Clemente Island in Southern California.

The U.S. Marine Corps identified all nine victims from the accident involving the sinking of an amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) in hundreds of feet of water in the area on July 30.

The body of Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, was found following days of search, with the others “presumed dead,” the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit announced on Sunday. Search efforts ended on Aug. 2.

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

“Their service, commitment, and courage will always be remembered by the nation they served.

“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.”

mark esper
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper in Washington, on July 9, 2020. (Greg Nash-Pool/Getty Images)

The nine service members, who were all part of Bravo Company, are:

  • Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels, Texas
  • Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 19, of Corona, California
  • Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, California
  • Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin
  • U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, California
  • Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon
  • Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas
  • Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Oregon
  • Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, California

The nine were part of a crew of 16 aboard the Marine AAV that was heading back to a Navy ship late on July 30 after a routine training exercise when it began taking on water about a half-mile from Navy-owned San Clemente Island off San Diego.

Marines-Sea-4
The U.S. flag was lowered to half-staff at Park Semper Fi in San Clemente, Calif., on July 31, 2020. (Paul Bersebach/The Orange County Register via AP)

Lt. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, said that other assault vehicles quickly responded but couldn’t stop the vehicle from quickly sinking.

“The assumption is that it went completely to the bottom” several hundred feet below, Osterman said. He said it was too deep for divers, and that the Navy and Coast Guard were discussing how to reach the sunken vehicle.

Seven others were rescued from the water, with two in stable condition at a hospital, according to authorities.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow Mimi on Twitter: @MimiNguyenLy