SAN DIEGO — Authorities on Friday recovered the bodies of nine people killed when a Marine landing craft sank in hundreds of feet of water off the Southern California coast, authorities said, including that of Lincoln High Christopher “Bobby” Gnem, 22, of Stockton.
The remains of seven Marines and a Navy sailor were found after underwater salvage operations that followed the sinking on July 30.
Families were notified Friday by visits from Marine Corps officers and chaplains. They will get a chance to see their loved ones during an “honorable carry” at Naval Base San Diego as Navy and Marine pallbearers place their flag-draped coffins aboard an aircraft headed to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
They will be flown to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to be prepared for burial by mortuary affairs teams, according to a statement Friday night from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.
The remains “will then be released to their families in accordance with their wishes,” the statement said.
The amphibious vehicle sank in 385 feet of water as it headed back to a Navy ship after completing routine training, the military said.
The craft sank less than a mile from San Clemente Island off the coast of San Diego. A diving and salvage ship carrying special equipment arrived on Thursday and recovered the bodies and the vehicle, the military said.
The dead were identified earlier this week as: Pfc. Bryan J. Baltierra, 19, of Corona; Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello; Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wisconsin; Gnem, a U.S. Navy Hospitalman; Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Oregon; Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas; Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Oregon; and Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside.
Gnem joined the Navy after graduating from Stockton’s Lincoln High in 2016, his family said in a GoFundMe fundraiser at https://www.gofundme.com/f/official-chris-quotbobbyquot-gnem-navy-corpsman-15th-meu.
“He was proud to serve his country and loved his Marine team whom he was with until the end,” his aunt, Alana Hem, wrote. “A gifted and inspirational athlete, loved by his Basketball, Judo, Jujitsu, & Football family. We will miss his ear to ear smile, goofy laugh and kind heart. He was the heart of the family.”
“He would want us to honor all those young men that were lost along with our Bobby,” Peter and Nancy Vienna, the stepfather and mother of Gnem, told CBS. “We pray for those families. No parent should ever outlive their children.”
Eight other people were rescued but one died at the scene. He was identified as Marine Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, 19, of New Braunfels, Texas. His body was flown to Dover Air Force Base on Wednesday.
All of the Marines aboard were attached to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit of the 1 Marine Expeditionary Force, based at nearby Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego. Gnem was a Navy corpsman attached to their unit.
“I’m so proud of the man you became,” friend Rashawn Rondo posted on Gnem’s Facebook page. “You had so much more to offer the world & you were showing it. Seeing everyone’s posts about you shows the way you were able to touch lives with your positivity, bright smile, kindness, & so much more. I’m so thankful you were able to impact so many people’s lives. We know you’re our angel watching over us.”
The commandant of the Marine Corps has suspended all waterborne operations of its more than 800 amphibious assault vehicles until the cause of the accident is determined.
“We hope the successful recovery of our fallen warriors brings some measure of comfort” to their families, said a statement from Col. Christopher Bronzi, commanding officer of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit.