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Military suspends use of mortar rounds in deadly Hawthorne blast

March 19, 2013|By David Zucchino and Michael Muskal
  • A sign at the Convention Center in Hawthorne, Nev., announces a memorial service for seven Marines killed at the Hawthorne Army Depot in a training accident.
A sign at the Convention Center in Hawthorne, Nev., announces a memorial… (Scott Sonner / Associated…)

Military officials have suspended the use of the 60-millimeter mortar rounds and ammunition similar to what was involved in an explosion that killed seven Marines and injured seven others during an exercise Monday night at the Hawthorne Army Depot in western Nevada, about 140 miles from Reno.

“All High Explosive (HE) and Illumination rounds that are the same lots as those that were being fired at Hawthorne have been suspended and may not be used for training or in theater,” the Marines announced in a statement e-mailed to reporters.

Those killed were from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The cause is under investigation, Brig. Gen. James W. Lukeman, commanding general of the 2nd Marine Division, said a news conference.

“This was a tragedy,” the general told reporters. “It’s a tragic loss when we lose some of the nation’s finest.’’

“Our hearts go out to you,” he said, referring to the families of those killed and injured. “We appreciate your sacrifice.... We send our prayers and condolences.... We remember their courage and sacrifice.”

Lukeman said a 60-millimeter round exploded in a mortar tube at 9:55 p.m. Monday during a training session involving “live fire and maneuver training” as part of a mountain exercise.

The unit has been training for the last month at Hawthorne and the nearby Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif., according to Lukeman.

The condition of at least one person injured in the explosion had improved, hospital officials said Tuesday afternoon. Six Marines and one sailor were hurt. 

Four remain in serious condition, according to Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno. Originally five were in serious condition.

Two were in fair condition Wednesday afternoon. One has been discharged, according to spokesman Mark Earnest.

All of the injured were younger than 30 and were treated for wounds including penetrating trauma, fractures and vascular injuries, he said.

None of the wounded or killed have been identified, pending notification of their families, according to the military.

The Hawthorne Army Depot began receiving ammunition and high explosives in 1930 after a New Jersey ammunition facility was shuttered because of an accident that killed hundreds of people. The Nevada site was chosen because of its remoteness.

The facility has hundreds of buildings and is spread over more than 230 square miles. It is also used by all of the services as a training facility because of its desert conditions.

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