On Monday, the Marine Corps released its investigation into a September incident that saw 14 Marines and one sailor suffer severe burns in an armored amphibious vehicle in Camp Pendleton.
At approximate 9:30 a.m. on September 13th of this year, the Marines were attempting to free their armored amphibious vehicle from a rut it was stuck in when they nicked a natural gas line. When the amtrack’s engine backfired during their attempts to extricate it, it ignited the gas leak, creating a massive 20-foot-tall pillar of fire that completely engulfed the vehicle, along with the Marines and Sailor riding inside.
“They attempted to get unstuck several times and then I heard a pop sound and then it exploded,” wrote an unnamed Marine in an official statement that was included in the report.
The injuries sustained by the Marines on board varied in severity, with one witness testimony recounting at least one Marine with “very bad burns to his upper body which was exposed through his tattered blouse. One was lying on his back and the other was on his knees looking at his hands. Both were conscious and screaming.”
It took six full hours for the three brush fire engines, a ladder truck, and firefighting aircraft that responded to the incident to suffocate the flames. Six paramedic units and five aero-medical ambulances also responded to the incident, evacuating the injured to the University of California San Diego Health Center and the University of California Irvine Medical Center for treatment.
“Many of the facial and hand injuries might have been lessened if Marines had been wearing flame-retardant clothing on those affected areas,” wrote Maj. Gen. Eric M. Smith, the commander of 1st Marine Division, on an attachment to the report. However, the general went on to specify that the amtrack crew were wearing special protective equipment and still suffered serious burns from the flames that were characterized as like “a blowtorch” in intensity.
The gas line, which was reportedly grey in color and blended into the terrain, had actually been ruptured by another Marine vehicle three months earlier, the investigation revealed. A Marine D8T bulldozer had damaged the line only about 90 feet away earlier this year, and although there were three signs posted nearby, the weather-worn signs did not offer sufficient warning to either vehicle in either event. If corrective action had been taken at the time, the September incident may not have occurred at all.
“Once the dozer was out of the rut, the operator shut the dozer off, heard a hissing sound and cleared all personnel from the area,” according to a separate report by Camp Pendleton’s Range Control office that was included as an addendum to Monday’s release.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps