US marines killed by mortar blast
The deaths, on Monday night, prompted the Pentagon to halt the use of the weapon worldwide pending a safety review.
An official said it was not clear whether the mortar exploded prematurely inside its firing tube or whether more than a single round exploded.
The 60mm mortar is a weapon that traditionally requires three to four marines to operate, but it is common during training for others to observe nearby.
Renown Regional Medical Centre in Reno said five patients remained in serious condition last night. Another was in fair condition and one had been discharged, a spokesman said.
The rescue was complicated by the remoteness of the site. A helicopter ride to Reno takes 41 minutes, and the city is two hours away by car. Small hospitals in rural Nevada are not prepared for mass casualties.
“We send our prayers and condolences to the families of Marines involved in this tragic incident,” said the force’s commander, Major General Raymond C Fox. “We mourn their loss, and it is with heavy hearts we remember their courage and sacrifice.”
The US 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 set off any mortars stored nearby in a phenomenon known as “sympathetic detonation”.
An investigation will now focus on whether the marines followed procedures to fire the weapon, whether there was a malfunction in the firing device or the mortar itself, a source said.