The U.S. Marine Corps and Golden West Humanitarian Foundation are conducting an investigation into a UXO explosion at a training center in Kompong Chhnang province that badly injured four American demining experts on Tuesday, U.S. officials said on Thursday.
The U.S. Embassy also released the identities of the four men for the first time, three of them U.S. Marines—Phillip McGill, Matthew Schaefer and David Crouse—and Lee Austin, a U.S. contractor with the NGO Golden West.
The four men are currently recovering from their injuries at Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok and their families have now all been notified.
“The U.S. Embassy can confirm that both the U.S. Marine Corps and Golden West Humanitarian Foundation are conducting investigations into the incident,” said U.S. Embassy spokesman John Simmons.
The four men were U.S. Army explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) personnel teaching explosives and munitions safety and handling techniques to Cambodian EOD personnel at the Cambodian Mine Action Center (CMAC). They were here to take part in a month-long training program alongside 30 Cambodian EOD technicians.
CMAC said it is also still investigating what went wrong at the Kompong Chhnang training center, but a provincial police official involved in preliminary investigations said Wednesday that the U.S. specialists had been attempting to neutralize a 23-mm canon when the accident occurred.
“CMAC is still carrying out our investigations,” said Heng Ratana, CMAC’s director-general. “We need to postpone the program for the moment, but afterwards it will continue as normal,” he said.
Roger Hess, director of field operations at Golden West, arrived in Bangkok early last night to receive a personal statement from the injured personnel.
He said that Mr. Austin was the deputy director of field operations at Golden West and had been working with the organization since 2005. “He has about 22 years experience in explosive disposal and was previously a U.S. Marine himself,” said Mr. Hess.
“He is probably one of the most highly qualified personnel on ordnance disposal that I know,” he added.
According to Mr. Hess, Mr. Austin received injuries to his abdomen from the explosion, but was not immediately working on the explosive device when the blast occurred.
“His injuries were more than superficial and may require further attention but they are not life-threatening,” he said. “He is in good spirits.” Mr. Hess said he would be returning to Phnom Penh today to continue his inquiry.
At an unrelated ceremony at Phnom Penh’s Sunway Hotel on Thursday, U.S. officials expressed their sympathy for the victims, and reiterated that the accident would be investigated.
“These four brave men came here to provide assistance and training, and I’d like to thank them for their service and for their sacrifice,” said Terry Murphree, acting U.S. Embassy deputy chief of mission, speaking at the closing ceremony for the Marine Air Ground Task Force Tactical Warfare Simulation —a joint U.S. and Cambodian disaster-training program.
(Additional reporting by Joshua Wilwohl)