Marine Officer Faces Discharge Over Sinking of Seafaring Tank That Killed 9 Off California

A Marine Corps Board of Inquiry convened on Tuesday to determine if Lieutenant Colonel Michael J. Regner should be discharged over one of the deadliest Marine training incidents in over a decade that killed nine people in 2020.

Sixteen people were aboard a seafaring assault vehicle on July 30, 2020, off the coast of California for a training exercise in rough waters when it turned deadly.

It took 45 minutes for the vehicle to sink in 385 feet (117 meters) of choppy water. Of the 16 people on board at the time of the incident, only seven were rescued.

According to a Marine Corps investigation, the tank started to fill with water and the emergency lights did not work. There were no markings on the side hatch so people had to use lights from their cellphones to try and escape.

Once they were able to get the hatch open, a boat coming to rescue them ran into the tank knocking them off their feet. Water started to flood into the opened hatch, causing it to sink faster.

The investigation into the incident said inadequate training, poor maintenance of the vessel and misjudgment from those in charge led to the sinking.

The Board of Inquiry's hearing for Regner is expected to last up to four days and will determine if he will be discharged.

Officer Faces Discharge Over Training Deaths
A Marine Corps panel is convening Tuesday to decide if an officer should be discharged over the sinking of an amphibious assault vehicle that killed nine service members. In the above July 31, 2020, file photo, the U.S. flag is seen lowered to half-staff at Park Semper Fi in San Clemente, California, after the seafaring assault vehicle sank off the coast. Paul Bersebach/The Orange County Register/AP Photo

Regner was relieved of command of the landing team of the 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, shortly after the mishap off the coast of San Clemente Island. A Marine Corps statement at the time said his removal was based on "a substantial amount of information and data" and cited a loss of trust.

If the Board determines Regner should be discharged, he could potentially lose retirement benefits and privileges.

The Marines use the vehicles to transport troops and their equipment from Navy ships to land. The armored vehicles outfitted with machine guns and grenade launchers look like tanks as they roll ashore for beach attacks, with Marines pouring out of them to take up positions.

Colonel Christopher J. Bronzi, who supervised Regner, was relieved of command of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit last year.

The investigation found inadequate training of platoon members who were provided amphibious assault vehicles that had not been used in more than a year and were in "poor condition." The platoon made repairs in a rush to meet a deadline, according to the investigation.

If the tank's distress signal had been seen sooner, it's likely rescuers could have saved the troops, the report stated. But there were no safety boats nearby.

The troops who had only trained on land were not told to remove their helmets, weapons and other gear, which prevented them from being able to escape. Their life jackets also may have prevented them from removing their body armor and proved useless in keeping them afloat because of the weight, according to the investigation.

At least two of the troops had not completed their swimming certifications.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.