LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - The U.S. military plans to identify on Wednesday the seven Marines who died in an explosion at a Nevada munitions depot when a mortar round detonated prematurely in its launching tube during a live-fire training exercise, a military spokesman said in a statement.
The Monday night blast killed seven Marines from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and injured eight other service members at the Hawthorne Army Depot in western Nevada. The cause was under investigation.
The blast was among the deadliest such 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.
“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.
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.
Those killed have been identified only as members of the 2nd Marine Division, but have not been further identified pending the notification of their families.
Seven Marines and a Navy sailor were also wounded. Of those, six were in serious or very serious condition, including the sailor, 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; Editing by Scott Malone and Nick Zieminski