A mortar shell explosion killed at least seven US marines and injured several more during mountain warfare training in the Nevada desert, prompting the US Department of Defense to halt the use of the weapons worldwide until an investigation determines their safety, officials said on Tuesday.
The explosion occurred on Monday night at the Hawthorne Army Depot, a facility used by troops heading overseas.
The rescue of the wounded marines was complicated by the remoteness of the site, which is favored because the harsh geography simulates conditions in Afghanistan.
The mortar round exploded in its firing tube during the exercise, Brigadier General Jim Lukeman said at a press conference in North Carolina, where the marines are based. He said investigators are trying to determine the cause of the malfunction.
The Pentagon expanded a temporary ban to prohibit the military from firing any 60mm mortar rounds until the results of the investigation.
The Pentagon earlier had suspended use of all high-explosive and illumination mortar rounds that were in the same manufacturing lots as the ones fired in Nevada.
The US Marine Corps said early on Tuesday that seven marines were killed, but John Stroud, national junior vice commander in chief for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, began a memorial event in Hawthorne on Tuesday night by saying “one of the critical has passed,” bringing the death toll to eight.
Stroud said he spoke with officers from Camp Lejeune, who told him about the eighth death before the ceremony.
The identities of those killed will not be released until 24 hours after their families are notified.