Marines say burnout, pandemic contributed to accident that killed 9 off California coast

Marines say burnout, pandemic contributed to accident that killed 9 off California coast
© US Marine Corps

A new report by the Marine Corps attributed burnout and the coronavirus pandemic to a 2020 accident that killed nine service members off the coast of California.

Lt. Gen. Carl Mundy III said in the report released Wednesday that it would be “a mistake to discount or overlook” the pressures and duties on officers at the time the 26-ton amphibious assault vehicle sank near San Clemente Island.

“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.

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The accident occurred on July 30, 2020, just months after the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic when the U.S. was struggling with rising cases and no vaccine.

An officer interviewed during the investigation said training last year was “not in a normal place.”

The 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit had “compressed and complicated available training opportunities” due to a coronavirus outbreak that occurred on the USS Theodore Roosevelt earlier in the year, Mundy said.

The “major challenges to his command on and before July 30, 2020 were a combination of materiel readiness, compressed training timelines, and adjustments to the predeployment training program schedule,” the report said.

The Navy’s investigator for the report, Rear Adm. Christopher Sweeney, said commanding officer Capt. Dave Kurtz “did not fully understand communication pathways” between the ship and Marine vehicles the day the accident occurred but that the misunderstanding was not responsible for the fatal incident.

Several people have faced administrative action in connection with the accident, Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener told reporters, with no Navy personnel removed from their job, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday. Several Marines were relieved of their duties following the incident. 

“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.”

Along with strain from the pandemic, the officers were also dealing with deployment to the southern border and combat operations as tensions with Iran were high at the time.

--Updated at 11:37 a.m.

Editor's note:  This report originally said no one was relieved of duty after the incident. This version has been updated.