The nine servicemen presumed dead after their amphibious assault vehicle sank off the coast of southern California were returning to the USS Somerset when their vessel started taking on water last week.

At least five of the eight Marines who escaped the failing vehicle were rescued by the warship that carries Somerset County's name, officials reported.

According to the U.S. Naval Institute's newspaper, 16 service members were on board after training a day earlier on San Clemente Island near San Diego. They were assigned to the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team, and heading back to the USS Somerset when their amphibious vehicle started taking on water.

"Their loss is felt by our entire Navy and Marine Corps family," the U.S. Navy wrote in a release this week.

"They will never be forgotten."

The Marines and Naval officer lost in the accident were from California and several other western states.

The incident sparked a Navy rescue effort that included the USS Somerset. But after a 40-hour nautical search, the mission shifted from rescuing the group of seven Marines and one sailor to recovering their remains, the U.S. Marines Corps reported.

The vessel and human remains were both located Tuesday using an underwater Sbitzky, a search-and-rescue video system.

"Our thoughts and prayers have been and will continue to be with our Marines' and sailor's families during this difficult time," said Col. Christopher Bronzi, 15th MEU Commanding Officer.

The group was training with the Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group for an anticipated deployment later this year. The amphibious group includes the USS Makin Island, USS Somerset and USS San Diego.

The Navy reported the Amphibious Assault Vehicles are being taken out of service while an investigation is underway to determine the cause of the accident.

The USS Somerset was commissioned in 2014, in honor of the community that has served as a caretaker of the Flight 93 story since Sept 11, 2001.

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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