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Mortar explosion kills 7 US Marines while training

Mortar explosion kills 7 US Marines while training

A mortar shell explosion killed seven U.S. Marines and injured a half-dozen more during a training exercise in the Nevada desert, prompting the Defense Department to immediately halt the use of the weapon worldwide until an investigation can determine its safety, a military official said Tuesday.
The explosion occurred Monday night at the Hawthorne Army Depot, a facility used by troops heading overseas.
It was not immediately clear whether the 60mm mortar shell exploded prematurely inside its firing tube or whether more than a single round exploded, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official wasn't authorized to speak about an ongoing investigation.
The rescue was complicated by the remoteness of the site, which is favored because the harsh geography simulates conditions in Afghanistan.
Eight men were taken to a medical center with injuries, such as penetrating trauma and fractures. One of them died, five were in serious condition, one wasin fair condition and another was discharged, said Renown Regional Medical Center spokesman Mark Earnest.
The identities of those killed won't be released until 24 hours after their families are notified.
"We send our prayers and condolences to the families of Marines involved in this tragic incident," said the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force commander, Maj. Gen. Raymond C. Fox. "We mourn their loss, and it is with heavy hearts we remember their courage and sacrifice."
The 60mm mortar traditionally requires three to four Marines to operate, but it's common during training for others to observe nearby. The firing tube a shell some 14 inches (355 millimeters) in length.
The mortar has changed little since World War II and remains one of the simplest weapons to operate, which is why it is found at the lowest level of infantry units, said Joseph Trevithick, a mortar expert with Global Security.org.
Still, a number of things could go wrong, including a fuse malfunctioning, a problem with the barrel's assembly or a round prematurely detonating inside the tube, Trevithick said.
The Marine Corps official said an explosion at the point of firing in a training exercise could kill or maim anyone inside or nearby the protective mortar pit and could concussively detonate any mortars stored nearby in a phenomenon known as "sympathetic detonation."
The official said a worldwide moratorium after such an accident is not unusual and would persist until the investigation determines that the weapon did not malfunction in ways that would hurt other Marines or that mortars manufactured at the same time as the one involved in the accident were safe.
The moratorium could last for weeks or months.
The investigation will focus on whether the Marines followed procedures to properly fire the weapon, whether there was a malfunction in the firing device or in the explosive mortar itself, the official said.
The Hawthorne Army Depot stores and disposes of ammunition. It has held an important place in American military history since WWII, when it became the staging area for ammunition, bombs and rockets for the war.
Retired Nevada state archivist Guy Rocha said he was unaware of any other catastrophic event at the depot over the years it served as a munitions repository.
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Bridis reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Pauline Jelinek in Washington and Michelle Rindels and Ken Ritter in Las Vegas contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-03-04 09:28 GMT+08:00