WASHINGTON -- Seven Marines were killed and several others were injured when a mortar round unexpectedly exploded during a live-fire training exercise at a weapons depot in western Nevada, the military said Tuesday.
The cause of the accident, which occurred around 10 p.m. Monday at the Hawthorne Army Depot, is under investigation, said Capt. Binford Strickland, a Marine Corps spokesman. Troops are often sent to the Hawthorne depot before being deployed to the war in Afghanistan.
The names of the Marines, members of the 2nd Marine Division, an expeditionary ground combat unit based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., have not been released by the military.
While many details remained unclear, a Marine Corps official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the news media said the Marines had been training with a 60-millimeter mortar when the accident occurred. It is not known whether the mortar round exploded prematurely inside its firing tube, whether it detonated among Marines after being fired, or whether more than a single round exploded.
Later Tuesday, the Marines suspended the use of mortar rounds from the same batch that was used at Hawthorne.
The mortars, which are used to support ground troops, are normally operated by a three-person squad. But during training missions, an instructor and others often huddle around as a mortar is loaded and fired.
The depot, on 150,000 acres of desert about 140 miles southeast of Reno, is one of the sites used by the military to store, dispose and recycle conventional ammunition, according to the depot's website. More recently, it has been used to train troops for Afghanistan because the terrain is similar to many parts of the country, where American troops have been fighting since late 2001.
"We send our prayers and condolences to the families of Marines involved in this tragic incident," Maj. Gen. Raymond C. Fox, commanding general of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, said in a statement. "We remain focused on ensuring that they are supported through this difficult time. We mourn their loss, and it is with heavy hearts we remember their courage and sacrifice."
After the accident, nine Marines were taken to Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno. One of the men later died, while three were listed in serious condition and five were in fair condition, said Mark Earnest, a hospital spokesman. The injuries to the men, all under 30, included penetrating trauma, fractures and vascular injuries, he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced news of the accident Tuesday morning on the Senate floor. "My heart goes out to the families of those who lost their lives," he said. "And my sympathies are with their fellow Marines, who are also grieving this loss."nation