While bereaved families grieve privately for the four US Marines who died Wednesday in California, unnamed sources have given news outlets conflicting accounts of what happened.
The accident occurred at the Zulu Impact Area of the 125,000-acre Camp Pendleton near San Diego, where Marines conduct artillery and bombing exercises. The Associated Press cited a Marine official who anonymously said the accident had taken place during a "periodic sweep of explosive materials." But according to NBC San Diego, "sources inside the Pentagon said the Marines were not clearing the range, but instead doing some sort of training when the deadly detonation occurred."
The deaths come six months after a US Navy SEAL was killed in a vehicle accident during a May training exercise. Just two months before that, a mortar explosion that killed seven Marines during a training exercise in Nevada prompted questions about the necessity of live-fire training in an era when explosions can now simulate the chaos of warfare without replicating its injuries.
NBC San Diego reported on six accidents involving Pendleton-based Marines since the start of 2011. Claiming a total of 14 lives, they included a skydiving accident, two helicopter crashes, and an amphibious assault vehicle that sank to the bottom of a basin.
Also during 2011, two soldiers collapsed during separate 2011 training exercises, prompting a probe into the stimulant Dimethylamylamine, a geranium-based body-building supplement that was found in their systems.
According to the Department of Defense, 424 active duty US military personnel died worldwide from accidents in 2010. In comparison, 456 died as a result of "hostile action" that year, and 289 deaths were self-inflicted. In September of this year, 1.38 million Americans were serving on active duty.