Montebello family hoping for closure after 21-year-old Marine, 7 others presumed dead in training accident off San Clemente Island

Local news

A Montebello family was left hoping for closure Monday as recovery efforts continued for the body of a 21-year-old Marine, one of eight presumed dead in an amphibious assault vehicle training accident near San Clemente Island. 

Lance Cpl. Marco Barranco was with 15 others aboard the 26-ton craft Thursday afternoon when crew members reported they had taken on water. The amphibious assault vehicle then quickly sank in hundreds of feet under water, making it difficult for divers to reach the service men.

Eight Marines were rescued from the water, but one later died at the scene. Seven other Marines and one sailor were presumed dead by Sunday, when officials called off search and rescue efforts, according to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Force.

On Monday, a memorial grew outside Barranco’s Montebello home, where his family was left heartbroken.

“I’m going to miss him. He was such an amazing soul … he had so many goals,” his sister, Selma Barranco, said through tears.

She said her brother always wanted to be a service member, even as a young boy, when he would dress up as a G.I. Joe for Halloween.

Barranco and all of the other Marines aboard the sunken craft were attached to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, based at Camp Pendleton in San Diego County. 

Those presumed dead include 19-year-old Pfc. Bryan Baltierra of Corona and 21-year-old Cpl. Cesar Villanueva of Riverside.

Barranco’s family said they understand that at the end of day, what happened was an accident, but they’re hoping Barranco’s body will be recovered.

“We’re really just trying to keep praying to find him and get that closure,” his sister said.

Officials said efforts have turned to recovering the service members and investigating the circumstances surrounding the sinking.

“He always told me if he died —we always talked about it— ‘don’t be sad, just know I died doing something I loved,’ and that’s all I can hold on to,” Barranco recalled.

Last week’s training accident was the deadliest of several involving the amphibious tractors that have occurred during Camp Pendleton exercises in recent years, the Associated Press reports.

A 2017 incident left 14 Marines and one Navy sailor hospitalized after their vehicle hit a natural gas line and caught fire. In 2011, a Marine died when the vehicle sank offshore of the camp during a training exercise, according to AP.

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