Nightly News   |  March 19, 2013

Military investigates deadly training accident

It’s still unclear what happened on Monday night when an explosion at an army depot in western Nevada killed seven U.S. Marines and injured many more. NBC’s Miguel Almaguer reports.

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>>> up the desert in nevada . the kind of thing we see in a war zone . it is why they train there for deployment in war zones, but this was stateside training. something went wrong at the hawthorne army depot not far from the california border. in the end, seven american families got the worse possible news. seven u.s. marines killed in a mortar accident. others were wounded. the investigation obviously under way now into what went wrong. nbc's miguel almaguer is with us from the scene tonight. good evening, miguel .

>> reporter: brian, good evening. the hawthorne army depot has been used for decades to store ammunition and train special forces . tonight the u.s. military says it's unclear what went wrong here. today, a somber salute to the seven killed and seven injured just outside the gates of nevada 's hawthorne army depot . late monday night the ser is vis members were air lifted during a live training exercise. the marines say a 60 millimeter mortar round suddenly exploded in a mortar tube.

>> every loss of life is heartbreaking. whether that occurs in afghanistan, hawthorne, nevada , north carolina , or anywhere else.

>> reporter: the military has issued a moratorium on firing 60-millimeter mortars until an investigation is complete.

>> typically a 60-millimeter mortar is manned by one or maybe two people. the fact that you had so many casualties here would indicate that there were other gun crews and trainees nearby.

>> reporter: the troops involved in the training accident belong to the second marine division, a ground combat force stationed at camp la june in north carolina . they were taking part in mountain warfare training.

>> the president's thoughts and prayers go to the families of those who were lost and to those who were injured. we are obviously in the early stages of assessing the incident. it's a tragedy, clearly.

>> reporter: a two and a half hour drive outside of reno, the hawthorne army depot is a sprawling 230 square mile facility with hundreds of buildings. used to store and, as we saw today, dispose of ammunition. the desert terrain here is ideal for training special forces for deployments to regions like afghanistan. while the injured remain in area hospitals the identities of those killed has yet to be publically released. the incident among the most deadly since seven marines were killed when two helicopters collided in arizona last year. tonight the military is once again investigating a deadly accident here at home. five marines are said to be in critical condition at the hospital. one in fair condition. later this evening, just down the road from here, a vigil will be held for the victims. brian?

>> miguel almaguer in the desert for us tonight. thinks.