With flames leaping high above a burning amphibious assault vehicle, one Marine ventured into the perfect picture of hell to rescue a trapped comrade.
The heroic Marine likely saved the badly burned man’s life after the AAV ran over an exposed natural gas line and its engine backfired, igniting a blaze that sent flames shooting 20-feet into the sky for six hours, according to a redacted investigation copy obtained by Marine Corps Times.
The San Diego Union Tribune first reported Monday about the results of the investigation into the incident Sept. 13 at Camp Pendleton, California, in which 14 Marines and one sailor were injured.
The Marines and sailor were from the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines and the 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion. They suffered burns, and some required skin graft surgeries. One of the troops aboard the AAV received 30 percent burns to his hands and face.
The AAV had gotten stuck in a ditch while trying to maneuver around another amphibious vehicle that had thrown a track, the investigation found. In order to get the vehicle out the ditch, the driver revved the engine. What the driver did not know was the AAV had run over an exposed gas line.
The brave Marine, whose name was redacted from the investigation, was standing near the AAV when its engine backfired. He heard a loud pop or bang and saw a black plume of exhaust.
“Immediately following the black plume was the explosion with a large fireball that covered the majority of the track,” the Marine said in a statement. “I saw the Marine from the T/C [troop commander] hatch and a pack catapult through the air from the AAV. Simultaneously, Marines inside the AAV started to pour over the sides of the vehicle.”
The flames were so intense that they had a “a rolling blowtorch” effect, said the Marine, who ran to the back of the AAV, where he could see Marines trying to get out of the back hatch.
From behind him, the Marine could hear someone yelling that 170 gallons of fuel was still onboard the burning vehicle, so getting the Marines away from the AAV was the top concern.
“There was a lot of Marines screaming in pain and every Marine I saw had significant burns,” he said. “Once I got to the back hatch, I started to pull Marines out of the vehicle and handed them to someone behind me.”
The Marine could see that the fire was quickly spreading inside the troop compartment and to the back of the vehicle. One Marine was still inside, screaming as his hands and face burned.
“When I grabbed the Marine, he immediately went limp,” he said. “As I pulled him out of the hatch, his gear kept getting caught, which made it extremely difficult. With assistance from another Marine (not sure who), and with my foot on the back of the ramp/hatch to get more leverage, we were finally able to pull the Marine out.”
All of the service members who were inside the AAV during the fire survived. The investigation found that none of the 15 troops were at fault for the incident.
The Marine who pulled out the badly burned man from the back of the AAV “should be considered for the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for saving the life of a Marine in the face of great danger to himself,” the investigation recommended.