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Mortarmen with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, fire illumination rounds as part of their training at Army Ammunition Depot Hawthorne, Nev., on June 19, 2009.
Mortarmen with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, fire illumination rounds as part of their training at Army Ammunition Depot Hawthorne, Nev., on June 19, 2009. (M. C. Nerl/U.S. Marine Corps)
Mortarmen with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, fire illumination rounds as part of their training at Army Ammunition Depot Hawthorne, Nev., on June 19, 2009.
Mortarmen with Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, fire illumination rounds as part of their training at Army Ammunition Depot Hawthorne, Nev., on June 19, 2009. (M. C. Nerl/U.S. Marine Corps)
Servicemembers with 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment pay their respects March 21, 2013, to Marines killed March 18 during a training exercise at Hawthorne Army Depot, Nev.
Servicemembers with 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment pay their respects March 21, 2013, to Marines killed March 18 during a training exercise at Hawthorne Army Depot, Nev. (Leo Salinas/U.S. Marine Corps)
Lance Cpl. Aaron J. Benoit mourns March 21, 2013, for the deaths of 7 Marines killed during a training exercise 3 days earlier at Hawthorne Army Depot, Nev. The Marines were killed -- 7 other Marines and a sailor were also injured -- when a 60 mm mortar exploded.
Lance Cpl. Aaron J. Benoit mourns March 21, 2013, for the deaths of 7 Marines killed during a training exercise 3 days earlier at Hawthorne Army Depot, Nev. The Marines were killed -- 7 other Marines and a sailor were also injured -- when a 60 mm mortar exploded. (Sin Carrano/U.S. Marine Corps)
I Marine Expeditionary Force Commanding General Lt. Gen. John A. Toolan Jr., pays his respects March 21, 2013, to the 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment Marines killed during a nighttime, live-fire training exercise 3 days earlier. Seven Marines were killed and seven others and one sailor were injured when a 60 mm mortar exploded at Hawthorne Army Depot, Nev.
I Marine Expeditionary Force Commanding General Lt. Gen. John A. Toolan Jr., pays his respects March 21, 2013, to the 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment Marines killed during a nighttime, live-fire training exercise 3 days earlier. Seven Marines were killed and seven others and one sailor were injured when a 60 mm mortar exploded at Hawthorne Army Depot, Nev. (Leo Salinas/U.S. Marine Corps)
Two Marines embrace during a memorial service at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center on March 21, 2013, for 7 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment Marines killed 3 days earlier during a training accident. Seven other Marines and a sailor were hurt when a 60 mm mortar exploded at Hawthorne Army Depot, Nev.
Two Marines embrace during a memorial service at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center on March 21, 2013, for 7 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment Marines killed 3 days earlier during a training accident. Seven other Marines and a sailor were hurt when a 60 mm mortar exploded at Hawthorne Army Depot, Nev. (Sin Y. Kook/U.S. Marine Corps)

A double-loaded mortar tube was the source of the explosion that killed seven Marines and wounded eight other troops during a nighttime, live-fire training exercise last March in Nevada, the Marine Corps Times is reporting.

A military investigation launched afterward determined that human error was to blame for the March 18 blast at Hawthorne Army Depot, but several factors led to the tragedy, the newspaper’s website said, citing the investigation report obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The investigation determined that insufficient training and preparation in the 60 mm mortar weapons system used in the exercise was partly to blame. The report also cites improper mortar gunnery commands and firing procedures, a “perceived sense of urgency” and haste, and a lack of supervision of the mortar section in the months before and during the deadly training exercise, the newspaper said.

Because of the terrain, the Marines at Hawthorne the night of the blast were grouped tightly around two mortar tubes. The explosion occurred when a Marine inserted a second round into a mortar tube, detonating the round already in it and shooting out the half-loaded round, the website reported, citing the investigation’s findings.

The Marines of Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 9th Marines out of Camp Lejeune, N.C. , had first conducted mortar training together just two months earlier. Additionally, several of the Marines involved that night recently had transitioned from 81 mm mortars, the investigation found. The 81 mm mortar system is “nearly impossible” to double-load in conventional drop-fire mode, Marine Corps Times said.

Investigators talked with about 28 Marines, from the then battalion commander Lt. Col. Andrew McNulty to the men who witnessed the blast.

The blast killed Pfc. Joshua M. Martino, 19, of Clearfield, Pa.; Lance Cpl. David P. Fenn II, 20, of Polk City, Fla.; Lance Cpl. Roger W. Muchnick Jr., 23, of Fairfield, Conn.; Lance Cpl. Joshua C. Taylor, 21, of Marietta, Ohio; Lance Cpl. Mason J. Vanderwork, 21, of Hickory, N.C.; Lance Cpl. William T. Wild IV, 21, of Anne Arundel, Md.; and Cpl. Aaron J. Ripperda, 26, of Madison Ill.

Three Marine officers were relieved of their command in the wake of the incident: McNulty, Capt. Kelby Breivogel and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Douglas Derring.

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