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Amphibious assault vehicles that sink are ‘death traps’ for the troops inside, Marine veterans say after fatal accident


An assault amphibious vehicle after exiting the well deck of an amphibious dock landing ship.

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A sinking Marine Corps amphibious assault vehicle is a “death trap” because of how hard it can be to get everyone out alive, Marine veterans told Insider after a deadly incident this summer.

Several former Marines said that the ways the aging AAVs are designed and operated make it “tough” to get a full load of Marines out in a crisis. If it sinks, troops in heavy combat gear have to hold their breath and climb out of a flooded vehicle through narrow, hard-to-open hatches. The escape plans for the often overcrowded vehicles appear problematic at best and at worst, disasters waiting to happen.

AAVs rarely sink and fatal mishaps are uncommon for the 26-ton tracked vehicles made to move Marines from warships at sea to shore under fire, but tragedy struck in late July when an amphibious vehicle sank rapidly to a depth of 385 feet off the coast of southern California during a training exercise.

The Marine Corps says that its AAVs can hold roughly two dozen troops, but they look like they could only reasonably hold about half that. The vehicle that sank in July was pretty packed, carrying 16 service members at the time of the accident.

Eight Marines and a Navy sailor died. Most appear to have never made it out of the drowning vehicle. The incident was the deadliest training accident in the history of the Corps’ amphibious assault vehicles.

The tragedy shook the Corp’s confidence in its AAVs, with the commandant suspending waterborne operations pending the outcome of an ongoing investigation. The Corps also fired the commander of the unit involved in the accident.

“Until the investigation is complete, we don’t know if the causal factors were related to the vehicle, the procedures, the training, the environment, or some combination of these,” the Corps told Insider, declining to comment on whether or not it believes its AAVs are safe.

What exactly happened to the AAV that sank this summer is still unclear, but what is clear is that a sinking AAV is dangerous, and in some cases, deadly.

‘Torture chamber’

AAVs, sometimes called “tracks” or “amtracs,” are rough rides even when they aren’t filling up with water and sinking, current and former Marines told Insider.

The Marines, who enter through a large ramp that lets down in the back, are tightly packed inside the 26-foot-long armored vehicle like sardines.  It’s loud, it’s tough to breathe, it smells of exhaust and diesel fumes, and it is not uncommon to see infantrymen vomit from motion sickness or panic from claustrophobia as the windowless hull rocks in the water.

“I’ve had my fair share of people freaking out in the back of an amtrac,” Sgt. Juan Torres, an AAV section leader, told Insider during a visit to Camp Pendleton earlier this year. “They don’t even know they’re claustrophobic, and next thing you know, they’re freaking out, screaming, ‘I need air, I need air.'”

Nate Eckman, a Marine infantryman who left the Corps a few years ago, told Insider that riding inside …read more

Source:: Business Insider

      

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