US halts search for seven marines, sailor missing off California

A 40-hour rescue effort has failed to find missing US troops off the coast of California, with officials now s

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A 40-hour rescue effort has failed to find missing US troops off the coast of California, with officials now saying seven Marines and one sailor are presumed dead. The troops were on an amphibious vehicle when it sunk.

The sinking of a US navy vehicle triggered a large-scale search for survivors off California, with Marine, Navy and Coast Guard helicopters, ships, and watercraft covering an area of over 1,000 square nautical miles (3,430 square kilometers), US military officials said on Sunday.

After 40 hours, however, the rescuers were still unable to track down eight missing service members.

"It is with a heavy heart that I decided to conclude the search and rescue effort," said Colonel Christopher Bronzi.

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The search for survivors will now shift to an effort to recover the bodies, said Bronzi, who leads 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

Marine Corps commandant David Berger said the move to halt the search was made "after all resources were exhausted."

'Presumed dead'

Previously, US officials said 16 people were on board of an amphibious assault vehicle – an armored 26-ton transporter designed to move both on land and sea – when it sunk during a training exercise on Thursday.

The vehicle started taking in water as the service members were returning to a navy ship after completing a task on the nearby island of San Clemente.

The troopers were in combat gear, including body armor, but were also equipped with flotation devices.

Several other vehicles from the same group tried to help but managed to rescue only eight people, with one of them later dying in a hospital.

The US military said on Sunday the other seven are now presumed dead.

Over 800 vehicles out of service

The accident prompted the US Marine Corps to suspend waterborne operations for over 800 amphibious assault vehicles used by the branch until the cause of the accident is determined.

Commandant Berger said the decision was made out of "an abundance of caution."

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The vehicle comes equipped with three water-tight hatches and is designed to be naturally buoyant. However, the transporter sunk in deep water outside San Clemente, putting it out of range for regular divers and complicating investigators' efforts.

dj/mm (Reuters, AFP, AP)
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