Imperial Valley Crash Pilot: "Did I Hit Homes?" | NBC Southern California

Imperial Valley Crash Pilot: "Did I Hit Homes?"

From the rubble of that fiery Harrier Jet crash in Imperial Valley, stories of compassion are starting to emerge



    (Published Friday, June 6, 2014)

    "Did I hit any homes?"

    Those were the first words a military jet pilot spoke when he came to after his plane's fiery crash into homes in the Imperial Valley, a witness told NBC 7.

    Retired U.S. Marine Benjamin Aguilar rushed to the crash site after he saw the pilot parachuting through the sky. When he saw the pilot land hard near Clark and Aten, he first wanted to make sure the pilot wasn't hurt.

    “I asked him how he felt and if anything hurt,” Aguilar said. “First thing out of his mouth was ‘Did I hit any homes, or was anyone hurt?’"

    The pilot's Harrier AV-8B was traveling from Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma to El Centro when it went down.

    A witness captured video of people rushing to the aid of the pilot. He had ejected safely out of the jet before it burst into flames, damaging three homes.

    Aguilar said he was one of the three people who raced to the pilot’s rescue. The downed pilot was tangled in his parachute in scorching 100-plus degree heat.

    “He was just kind of out of it for a bit when he hit,” Aguilar remembers.

    "My main concern was getting him off the road and off the hot pavement and hoping he's okay," he said.

    Five minutes later, Aguilar says, the pilot stood up on his own — then called command.

    "He didn't mention anything about the plane, what went wrong with the plane,” he said. “Imperial police asked if he had any ordinance and he had none."

    He was said to be "doing well" and suffered only scrapes and bruises.

    Lt. Col. John Ferguson, executive officer of Marine Aircraft Group 13, has interviewed those families who suffered losses because of the crash and he said it was remarkable that the number one concern for many victims is about the pilot’s wellbeing.

    “They’re all asking how the pilot’s doing and I’m more concerned about how they’re doing, their families,” Ferguson said.

    Officials have not identified the pilot or discussed his actions but have said that he followed protocol.

    Military investigators say it could be months to determine what caused the crash.