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Recovery mission continues for 7 Marines, 1 sailor presumed dead after training accident

Sixteen Marines and one sailor were on board the vessel when the 26-ton amphibious assault vehicle started taking on water during a routine training exercise.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — The Marine Corps identified seven Marines and one sailor and released their names late Sunday after a training accident last week. Authorities also released the name of one Marine who was pulled from the water and died on scene. The Navy continued their search for the bodies of the eight service members missing off the California Coast on Monday. 

Sixteen Marines and one sailor were on board the vessel when the 26-ton amphibious assault vehicle started taking on water Thursday evening during a routine training exercise near San Clemente Island.

The victims presumed dead range from the young age of 19 to 23.

Two surviving Marines were still being treated at Scripps La Jolla as of Monday. One was in critical and one was in stable condition.

Family members of those identified said they are still trying to register the loss.

“His smile… I’m just going to miss,” said Guadalupe Garcia whose son Lance Corporal Marco Barranco of Montebello was just 21 years old. 

Other assault vehicles quickly responded the night of the accident but couldn’t stop the AAV from sinking.

“When those things start sinking once they lose buoyancy. It's an armored vehicle in the water and it can go down very quickly,” said retired Marine Lt. Colonel Hal Kempfer.

Kempfer said military officials will conduct a full investigation to identify the cause of the mishap. But there is another heart-wrenching task ahead. 

“I’ve had this duty a couple times: casualty assistance officer, care officer - and your job is to provide family whatever they need," he said. "You get into all the details of arranging movement of the remains, memorial services."

The Marines were attached to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit based at nearby Camp Pendleton.

It’s not the first time the unit was involved in tragedy during a training exercise. In 1999, seven service members died when their helicopter crashed at sea ferrying troops between ships 14 miles off Point Loma.

“We train like we fight. It's very dangerous business,” said Kempfer.

The young men will forever be remembered as true heroes.

“I had to support him - that’s your dream - and we did,” Garcia said.

The names of the victims identified appear below with links to GoFundMe pages that have been established: 

Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 18, of Corona, California

Baltierra was a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU. A GoFundMe page has been established in Baltierra's memory.

Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, California

Barranco was a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU. A GoFundMe page has been set up for Barranco.

Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin

Bath was a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.

U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, California

Gnem was a hospital corpsman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU. A GoFundMe page for Gnem's family will help with funeral and other expenses.

Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon

Ostrovsky was a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU.

Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 20, of New Braunfels, Texas

Perez was pronounced dead at the scene Thursday 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. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the family with costs.

Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Oregon

Sweetwood was a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU. On a GoFundMe page for Sweetwood's family, his aunt wrote that he died the day before his 19th birthday.

Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, California

Villanueva was a rifleman with Bravo Company, BLT 1/4, 15th MEU. Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey posted about Villanueva's death on Facebook on Monday.