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7 Marines Killed Near Area 51

March 20, 2013

What really happened at the Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada where a mortar shell explosion killed seven Marines and injured a half-dozen more?

The Hawthorne Army Depot (HWAD) is the largest ammunition depot in the world. It is located near the Homey Airport, otherwise known as Area 51.

The mainstream news media reports that it was a weapons accident during a training exercise in Nevada's high desert, prompting the Pentagon to immediately halt the use of the weapon worldwide until an investigation can determine its safety.

The Hawthorne Army Depot is used by troops heading overseas to invade, loot and kill people in the middle east.

WAS IT MILITARY SABOTAGE?

It was not clear where the Marines were standing or the cause of the killer blast, which is under investigation.

One official did not know whether the seven dead Marines and several others who were injured were in the same firing pit, standing nearby for training observation or in an adjoining mortar pit, but any of those situations would have been put in danger after such an explosion.

An investigation will focus on whether the Marines followed procedures to properly fire the weapon, whether there was a malfunction in the firing device or in the explosive mortar itself, said an official.

The official said it was not immediately clear whether the 60mm mortar shell exploded prematurely inside its firing tube or whether more than a single round exploded. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official wasn't authorized to speak about an ongoing investigation.

Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno, the area's major trauma hospital, took eight patients, including one who died, five who are in serious condition, one in fair condition, and one who has been discharged, according to spokesman Mark Earnest.

All the patients are men under the age of 30, he said. Hospital officials described their injuries as penetrating trauma, fractures and vascular injuries.

The rescue was complicated by the remoteness of the site, which is favored because the harsh geography simulates conditions in opium-rich Afghanistan. A helicopter ride to Reno is 41 minutes long, according to Care Flight spokesman Kurt Althof, and the distance is 2 ½ hours by car. He said Hawthorne and other rural communities rely on helicopters for much of their emergency response.

"The hospitals aren't equipped to handle anything even remotely close to this event," Althof said. The identities of those killed won't be released until 24 hours after their families are notified.

THE WEAPON

The 60mm mortar is a weapon that traditionally requires three to four Marines to operate, but it's common during training for others to observe nearby. The firing tube is supported in a tripod-like design and fires roughly a 3-pound shell, some 14 inches in length and a bit larger than 2 inches in diameter.

The Marine Corps official said an explosion at the point of firing in a training exercise could kill or maim anyone inside or nearby the protective mortar pit and could concussively detonate any mortars stored nearby in a phenomenon known as "sympathetic detonation."

The Hawthorne Army Depot stores and disposes of ammunition. The facility is made up of hundreds of buildings spread over more than 230 square miles. Bunkers dot the sagebrush-covered hills visible from the highway.

The site currently serves several purposes for the military, including storing ammunition and explosives and providing what the military calls an ideal training facility for special forces preparing for deployments to similar desert terrain.

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