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Hearing at Camp Pendleton for officer in command when AAV sank leaving 9 dead

An investigation uncovered a number of failures that led up to the tragedy including vehicle maintenance issues.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — A hearing began at Camp Pendleton Tuesday for Marine Lt. Col. Michael Regner, who was the officer in command when an amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) sank off the coast of San Clemente Island in July 2020 during a training exercise, leaving nine service members dead.

“What happened to the boys is a result of the AAV5, of the equipment that should not have even been utilized.  It was a 36- to 40-year old vehicle.  It already was a damaged vehicle,” said Carlos Baltierra.  

His 18-year old-son Bryan drowned along with eight other service members during. Carlos still remembers how he heard the news.

“I was looking out the window and I saw three well-dressed men in military uniform and I never thought they were going to stop at my house to knock on my door and tell me that my son was missing,” said Baltierra. “And the next day it was confirmed that they were dead.”

An investigation uncovered a number of failures that led up to the tragedy including vehicle maintenance issues and a delayed evacuation when the AAV began taking on water.

“I remember my son was texting me pictures,” said Baltierra. “He sent me texts during this whole thing. He said, ‘The track, it’s smoking. We had to stop and they’re trying to fix it.’  And about an hour later, he says, ‘Dad, I think they got it. We’re gonna go take a dip in the ocean now.’ I mean, who knew what was going to happen.”

During opening statements, the government outlined their case against Lt. Col. Regner stating that his leadership set the conditions for the accident to happen. They claimed that the battalion was not properly swim-qualified with the necessary training to exit a submerged vehicle.  Counsel for Lt. Col. Regner argued that his client took responsibility for what happened, but didn’t believe that a legal basis existed for his discharge.

“I know Regner is kind of being the fall guy. Fingers are being pointed at him. It’s not just him,” said Baltierra. “People below him and people above him knew about this. They knew about the budget-cutting.”

Marine Lt. Col. Regner has served for 19 ½ years and is eligible for retirement in July of this year.  This panel will ultimately decide whether or not to recommend he be discharged.

“As things move forward, I hope that they do the right thing,” said Baltierra.  “I really do.”

The hearing is scheduled to reconvene later this week after the panel has had a chance to review more of the evidence.

WATCH RELATED: Families of service members who died in AAV accident announce lawsuit against the manufacturer 

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