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Marines identify seven who died in Nevada mortar blast

Brig. Gen. James W. Lukeman, 2nd Marine Division commanding general, offers his remarks and condolences outside the main gate of Marine Corp
Brig. Gen. James W. Lukeman, 2nd Marine Division commanding general, offers his remarks and condolences outside the main gate of Marine Corp

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - The U.S. military identified on Wednesday the seven Marines killed in an explosion at a Nevada munitions depot when a mortar round detonated prematurely in its launching tube during a live-fire training exercise.

The Monday night blast killed seven from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, including six Marines who served in Afghanistan, the Marines said in a statement. It injured eight other servicemembers at the Hawthorne Army Depot in western Nevada. The cause was under investigation.

The Marine Corps identified the victims as Lance Corporals David P. Fenn II, 20, Roger W. Muchnick Jr., 23, Joshua C. Taylor, 21, Mason J. Vanderwork, 21, and William T. Wild IV, 21, all of whom were mortarmen who had served in Afghanistan.

Corporal Aaron J. Ripperda, 26, was an anti-tank missileman who served in Afghanistan. Private First Class Joshua M. Martino, 19, served as a mortarman. All those killed were members of the 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.

"We send our prayers and condolences to the families of the Marines and sailors who have been killed and injured in this tragic accident," Brigadier General Jim Lukeman, the division's commanding general, said in a statement.

"Our first priority is to provide them with the support they need during this very difficult time, and we're doing that right now," he added.

The blast was among the deadliest military training accidents on U.S. soil in recent years. In February 2012, seven Marines were killed when two helicopters collided during an exercise along the California-Arizona border.

The Marines killed on Monday had been undergoing training for the past month at the Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, California, and at Hawthorne, about 92 miles southeast of Reno, Nevada.

"Although this is a very difficult time for the entire depot and our small town, we will continue to work closely with the Marine Corps during this tragic incident," Hawthorne Army Depot Commander Lieutenant Colonel Craig M. Short said in a statement.

Seven Marines and a Navy sailor were also wounded. Of those, six were in serious or very serious condition, while two were treated and released, the Marines said in a statement.

The Marines ordered a blanket suspension of the use of 60mm mortars, the type involved in the explosion, on Tuesday pending a review after the blast, Marine Corps spokeswoman Captain Kendra Motz said in a statement.

The Marines described the mortar involved as lightweight, and said it was typically fired from a stationary position.

Hawthorne Army Depot is a 147,000-acre (60,000-hectacre) site used for the storage and destruction of demilitarized ammunition. Its location in Nevada's isolated high desert is also considered an ideal training environment for Special Operations forces preparing for deployments to Southwest Asia, according to a U.S. military website.

The facility was established as a naval staging area for bombs, rockets and ammunition, and was used by the Navy during most of World War Two. It was transferred to the Army in 1977.

The accident came a week after a U.S. military plane assigned to a Washington state Naval Air Station crashed during a routine training flight, killing all three crew members on board.

(Reporting by Cynthia Johnston and Tim Gaynor; Editing by Scott Malone and Nick Zieminski)

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