- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

Two Marines drowned in southern Iraq after attempting to cross a canal without a safety line while wearing heavy gear and rifles, The Washington Times has learned.
The Marines were identified by the Pentagon as Cpl. Evan James, 20, of Hancock, Ill., and Sgt. Bradley Korthaus, 28, of Scott, Iowa. Both were part of a Marine Corps Reserve engineer company in Peoria, Ill.
A spokesman for the Naval & Marine Corps Reserve Center in Peoria said Sgt. Korthaus worked as a plumber and Cpl. James was a lifeguard and student.
The spokesman said the company commander, Maj. Mike McCarthy, helped in the search for the two Marines.
Marine Corps Maj. Matt McLoughlin, another spokesman, said both men went under the water while attempting to swim across the Saddam Canal in southern Iraq on Monday.
In a statement, the Marine Corps said: "For unclear reasons, four Marines were crossing the Saddam Canal. Two of the Marines made it across, and according to witnesses, two other Marines went under water and have yet to be found."
"What we understand is that these Marines were crossing the Saddam Canal, and that somehow they fell in the canal, went underwater and have yet to be located," Maj. McLoughlin said.
However, J.M. Eddins Jr., a photographer for The Washington Times assigned to a Marine Corps supply unit in Iraq, said the men were sent across the canal without taking the precaution of removing their heavy equipment or rifles.
Also, the men were not tied to a rope or cable that could have been used to pull them out, he said.
"These two guys went into the water with full camouflage gear and rifles and they sank to the bottom like a rock," said Mr. Eddins, who was on the scene shortly after the Marines disappeared and spoke to Marines in the area.
"Everyone is really [angry] about this. It was just a needless tragic accident," he said.
One observer in Iraq said the Marines were ordered into the canal by a reserve major in charge of the 6th Engineer Support Battalion.
The Marines were at the canal, which runs parallel to the Euphrates River, to build a crossing and set up a water-purification facility for the First Marine Expeditionary Force troops that have been driving toward Baghdad.
The exact location of the incident was not identified for security reasons.
The Marines were sent to the other side of the canal to provide security against any Iraqi soldiers or irregulars who might be hiding behind a large berm on the opposite side.
After the Marines disappeared, other Marines stripped down to their shorts and went into the water without equipment in a frantic search. They wore floatation devices attached to their bodies with ropes. Other Marines lined up along the canal trying to locate the missing men.
Two Marine CH-47 helicopters also were called in to help with the search.
Asked about reports that one or both of the bodies had been recovered, a Marine Corps spokesman said the status of the men as missing had not changed as of last night.
The Marines have classified the men as "duty status whereabouts unknown," a status different than missing in action.
The Pentagon said in a statement released yesterday that Cpl. James and Sgt. Korthaus "were among a group of Marines in the vicinity of the Saddam Canal in Iraq on March 24.
"A search and rescue effort to locate the Marines is continuing," the statement said, without providing any further details.

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