US calls off search for seven marines and sailor missing at sea

The missing were aboard an amphibious assault vehicle that sank Thursday off the coast of southern California.

    The personnel were on board a  marine amphibious assault vehicle that sank in the waters off Southern California on Thursday [File: Mindaugas Kulbis/The Associated Press]
    The personnel were on board a marine amphibious assault vehicle that sank in the waters off Southern California on Thursday [File: Mindaugas Kulbis/The Associated Press]

    The US military has called off a search for seven marines and a sailor missing at sea for days, saying they were presumed dead. 

    The military personnel were aboard an amphibious assault vehicle that sank on Thursday in deep water off the coast of southern California during a training exercise.

    During the 40-hour search, marine, navy and coastguard helicopters, ships and watercraft searched more than 1,000 square nautical miles, the marines said in a statement.

    "It is with a heavy heart that I decided to conclude the search and rescue effort," said Colonel Christopher Bronzi, commander of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

    A total of 16 service members were on the amphibious vehicle. Eight had been rescued but one later died. Two others remain in critical condition. 

    All the marines involved were assigned to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which is based at Camp Pendleton. 

    The search and rescue operation now shifts to one aimed at finding the bodies of the missing service members, Bronzi said.

    Training accident

    The vessel, which was more than 1,000 metres (3,281 feet) off the northwest coast San Clemente Island, reported taking on water late on Thursday afternoon.

    The 26-tonne amphibious vehicle was armoured and designed to carry troops from a ship to shore.

    At the time, the vessel was returning to a ship from the island, which is used exclusively by the military for training and as a ship-to-shore firing range.

    It sank in several hundred feet of water, which the military said was too deep for regular divers to reach it.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies