SAN DIEGO — The amphibious assault vehicles at the center of last year’s tragic Marine Corps training accident will no longer operate in the water, the military said this week, amid a lawsuit deeming the tanks “death traps.”
The decision was reported by FOX 5 partner the San Diego Union-Tribune Wednesday.
AAVs will continue land-based operations but will no longer deploy or train in the water outside of a crisis that demands a reversal of the decision, the U-T’s military reporter Andrew Dyer wrote. Dyer cited Maj. Jim Stenger, who insisted the tanks remain “a safe and effective vehicle for amphibious operations.”
“That said, given the current state of the amphibious vehicle program … the Commandant of the Marine Corps has decided the AAV will no longer serve as part of regularly scheduled deployments or train in the water during military exercises,” Stenger told the paper.
A new amphibious combat vehicle, called an ACV, is set to replace the aging fleet of existing amphibious vehicles over the next decade, Dyer reports.
When one of the older AAVs sank off the coast of San Clemente Island in July 2020, it killed nine Camp Pendleton-based service members, making it the deadliest training accident in decades. It led to the firing of a general and job removal or discipline for at least 11 other military officials.
A Marine Corps investigation found that the incident was caused by a series of human errors and mechanical problems that could have been averted. Investigators say the platoon was not effectively trained and then given AAVs in “poor condition.” Service members made repairs in a rush to meet a deadline. The 35-year-old vehicle should have never been in the water, authorities concluded.
“Ultimately this tragic mishap was preventable,” wrote Lt. Gen. Steven R. Rudder, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, in his review of the investigation.
Attorneys for the families of those killed in the accident are now suing the manufacturer of the tanks, alleging defects in the AAV’s cargo hatch door left the servicemen trapped inside the vehicle with no way to get out.
Attorneys said the crew spent 45 minutes trying to open the AAV’s hatch door, but could not force it open or place the door in a locked and open position. Attorney Annee Della Donna acknowledged that many of the tanks involved in the training mission were old and had reported maintenance issues, but claims that even with those problems, the men would have been able to escape the vehicle had the hatch door been operable.
The families are barred from suing the military due to what’s called the Feres Doctrine, which prevents service members and their families from filing suit against the federal government for wrongful deaths or injuries sustained while serving.
“Yes, there was training issues. Yes, we believe that BAE is going to point the finger back at the Marines,” Dubin said. “But we all lose if that’s what it comes to.”