Click map to enlarge to see location of Hawthorne, NV.
By SCOTT SONNER and TED BRIDIS Associated Press
HAWTHORNE, Nev. (AP) - A mortar explosion killed seven Marines and injured a half-dozen more during a training exercise in the Nevada desert, prompting the Pentagon to immediately halt the use of the weapon worldwide until an investigation can determine its safety, a military official said Tuesday.
The explosion occurred Monday night at the Hawthorne Army Depot, a facility used by troops headed overseas, during an exercise involving the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Several Marines from the unit were injured in the blast, authorities said.
The official said it was not immediately clear whether the mortar exploded prematurely inside its firing tube or whether more than a single round exploded. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official wasn't authorized to speak about an ongoing investigation.
The 60mm mortar is a weapon that traditionally requires three to four Marines to operate, but it's common during training for others to observe nearby.
Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, the area's major trauma hospital, took eight patients, including one who died, five who are in serious condition, one in fair condition, and one who has been discharged, according to spokesman Mark Earnest.
All the patients are men under the age of 30, he said. Hospital officials described their injuries as penetrating trauma, fractures and vascular injuries.
The rescue was complicated by the remoteness of the site. A helicopter ride to Reno is 41 minutes long, according to Care Flight spokesman Kurt Althof, and the distance is 2 ½ hours by car. Small hospitals in rural Nevada aren't prepared to accommodate mass casualties.
The identities of those killed won't be released until 24 hours after their families are notified.
"We send our prayers and condolences to the families of Marines involved in this tragic incident," said the force's commander, Maj. Gen. Raymond C. Fox. "We mourn their loss, and it is with heavy hearts we remember their courage and sacrifice."
The Marine Corps official said an explosion at the point of firing in a training exercise could kill or maim anyone inside or nearby the protective mortar pit and could concussively detonate any mortars stored nearby in a phenomenon known as "sympathetic detonation."
The official did not know whether the seven dead Marines and several others who were hurt were in the same firing pit, standing nearby for training observation or in an adjoining mortar pit, but any of those situations would have been them in danger after such an explosion.
The official said a worldwide moratorium after such an accident is not unusual and would persist until the investigation determines that the weapon did not malfunction in ways that would hurt other Marines or that mortars manufactured at the same time as the one involved in the accident were safe to continue to use.
The official said it would be normal to warn other U.S. military branches that use 60mm mortars, such as the Army, about the Marines warning. The moratorium could last for weeks or months.
The investigation will focus on whether the Marines followed procedures to properly fire the weapon, whether there was a malfunction in the firing device or in the explosive mortar itself, the official said.
The Hawthorne Army Depot stores and disposes of ammunition. The facility is made up of hundreds of buildings spread over more than 230 square miles.
Hawthorne has held an important place in American military history since World War II when it became the staging area for ammunition, bombs and rockets for the war. The Nevada Division of Environmental Protection says that the depot employed more than 5,500 people at its peak. Nevada was chosen for the location because of its remoteness in the wake of a devastating explosion at the government's main depot in New Jersey in the 1920s.
It opened in September 1930 as the Naval Ammunition Depot Hawthorne and was redesignated Hawthorne Army Ammunition Plant in 1977 when it moved under the control of the Army, according to its website. In 1994, the site ended its production mission and became Hawthorne Army Depot. The site currently serves several purposes for the military, including storing ammunition and explosives and providing what the military calls an ideal training facility for special forces preparing for deployments to similar desert terrain in places like Afghanistan.
Nevada and North Carolina political leaders expressed their sympathy.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., gave his condolences to victims of the explosion during a Tuesday morning speech on the Senate floor. Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller tweeted, "Thoughts and prayers are with the families who lost a loved one in the Hawthorne Army Depot explosion. Grateful for their service."
"I was so saddened to learn about the seven Marines from Camp Lejeune who were killed last night in Nevada," U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, DN.C., said in a statement. "My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the Marines who were killed and those who were injured, and I will continue to monitor the investigation so we can find out what happened and take appropriate steps."
Bridis reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Pauline Jelinek in Washington and Michelle Rindels and Ken Ritter in Las Vegas contributed to this report.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Wednesday, June 19 2013 8:31 PM EDT2013-06-20 00:31:56 GMT
Police traffic crash investigators are looking into the death of a 16-year-old Independence boy who fell from the back of a vehicle he was riding on. The incident occurred Tuesday about 3:45 p.m. at theMore >
Police traffic crash investigators are looking into the death of a 16-year-old Independence boy who fell from the back of a vehicle he was riding on.More >
Wednesday, June 19 2013 8:05 PM EDT2013-06-20 00:05:40 GMT
The parents of a 2-year-old girl have been charged in connection with the child's malnourished condition and injuries, including open wounds, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced. ArthurMore >
The parents of a 2-year-old girl have been charged in connection with the child's malnourished condition and injuries, including open wounds, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker announced.More >
Wednesday, June 19 2013 7:37 PM EDT2013-06-19 23:37:10 GMT
A Belton woman who sued Vatterott College over its enrollment practices has won a $13 million judgment against the college. Jennifer Kerr, 42, said the enrollment procedures caused her to spend thousandsMore >
A Belton woman who sued Vatterott College over its enrollment practices has won a $13 million judgment against the college.More >
Wednesday, June 19 2013 9:12 PM EDT2013-06-20 01:12:51 GMT
Police have taken two in custody in connection with the disappearance of a 6-foot tall statue worth $75,000 outside an Independence museum.Independence police confirmed that two are in custody. This comesMore >
Police have taken two in custody in connection with the disappearance of a 6-foot tall statue worth $75,000 outside an Independence museum.More >
Wednesday, June 19 2013 9:28 AM EDT2013-06-19 13:28:10 GMT
One of Kansas City's most beloved barbecue joints went up in flames early Wednesday morning.Firefighters say the fire started at midnight at Gates Bar-B-Q near North 10th Street and State Avenue.when crewsMore >
One of Kansas City's most beloved barbecue joints went up in flames early Wednesday morning.More >
Wednesday, June 19 2013 12:42 PM EDT2013-06-19 16:42:14 GMT
Authorities are looking for a missing elderly couple.Garnett Police Chief Kevin Pekarek said Vernon and Goldie Hunt left their home about 6:30 a.m. Monday for Dwight, IL. Vernon is 92 years old and GoldieMore >
Authorities say a missing elderly Kansas couple has been found safe in Michigan.More >
Wednesday, June 19 2013 11:18 PM EDT2013-06-20 03:18:30 GMT
(RNN) - Celebrity chef and southern food connoisseur Paula Deen was back in a controversial spotlight Wednesday, alleged of using racial slurs as jokes in her restaurants in front of employees. AccordingMore >
Celebrity chef and southern food connoisseur Paula Deen was back in a controversial spotlight Wednesday, alleged of using racial slurs as jokes in her restaurants in front of employees.More >
Wednesday, June 19 2013 6:39 PM EDT2013-06-19 22:39:30 GMT
Thousands of dead bumble bees were discovered in the parking lot of a Wilsonville store. Rich Hatfield, a conservation biologist with the Portland-based Xerces Society of Invertebrate Conservation, saidMore >
A conservation biologist estimated there to be at least 25,000 bees in the parking lot at the Wilsonville store. More >