AP: Both Engines Failed on Fighter Jet

SAN DIEGO -- Both engines failed on a military jet fighter before the aircraft crashed and burned in a San Diego neighborhood, a congressional aide said Tuesday.

The fighter jet was returning to a Marine base after a training exercise. The crash killed three people on the ground, leaving one missing and destroying two homes.

The aide, speaking on condition of anonymity because the information was not yet public, said the pilot of the twin-engine F/A-18D Hornet was attempting to land at the Miramar Marine base after his right engine malfunctioned. The aide told The Associated Press that while the pilot was on final approach to the runway the aircraft also lost thrust from its left engine.

No official finding of the cause for the crash was given.

The pilot of the F/A-18D Hornet jet ejected safely just before the crash around noon at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Explosions rocked a neighborhood of half-million-dollar homes, sending flames and plumes of smoke skyward.

The plane went down in University City near Interstate 805 at about noon. Aerials of the crash scene showed debris in the street and most of one home destroyed.  The smoke was so thick at the corner of Huggins Street and Cather Avenue (map) that it was making it difficult to breathe, prompting some homeowners to voluntarily evacuate the area.

"The house shook; the ground shook. It was like I was frozen in my place," said Steve Krasner, who lives a few blocks from the crash. "It was bigger than any earthquake I ever felt."

Three people were killed in a house where two children, a mother and a grandmother were believed to be at the time of the crash. Authorities said a baby was missing Tuesday morning.

The Rev. Kevin Lee of the Korean United Methodist Church said Tuesday that the victims were Young Mi Yoon, who was in her mid-30s; her 2-month-old daughter, Rachel; and her mother, Suk Im Kim. Lee says the grandmother was helping to care for the infant. Cadaver dogs are still searching for the body of another daughter, identified as 15-month-old Grace Yoon.

The San Diego County medical examiner's office has not officially released the names of the victims.

"We just know that four people were inside, and three of them have been accounted for," said Fire Department spokesman Maurice Luque.

"We just know that four people were inside, and three of them have been accounted for," said Fire Department spokesman Maurice Luque.

The pilot, who ended up hanging by his parachute from a tree in a canyon beneath the neighborhood, was in stable condition at a naval hospital in San Diego, said Miramar spokeswoman 1st Lt. Katheryn Putnam. The pilot was returning from training on the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln off the San Diego coast when the plane went down, she said.

Firefighters hosed down rubble more than three hours after the crash as white smoke continued to rise from it. Authorities said the smoke was toxic, and about 20 homes were evacuated.

There was little sign of the plane in the smoking ruins, but a piece of cockpit sat on the roof of one home, and a charred jet engine lay on a street near a parked camper. A parachute was visible in the canyon below a row of houses.

The neighborhood in the University City section of San Diego smelled of jet fuel and smoke. Ambulances, fire trucks and police cars choked the streets. A Marine Corps bomb disposal truck was there, although police assured residents there was no ordnance aboard the jet.

Neighbors described chaos after the jet tore into the houses and flames erupted.

"It was pandemonium," said Paulette Glauser, 49, who lived six houses away. "Neighbors were running down toward us in a panic, of course."

Jets frequently streak over the neighborhood, two miles from the base, but residents said the imperiled aircraft was flying extremely low.

"The plane was going slow but the engine was running," said one witness, Gil Johnston who lives 2 miles west of the crash scene. "Then I heard a pop."

Jordan Houston was looking out his back window three blocks from the crash when the plane passed by. A parachute ejected from the craft, followed by a loud explosion and a mushroom-shaped cloud.

Houston, 25, said a truck exploded after the driver backed over flaming debris and then jumped from the cab yelling, "I just filled up my gas tank."

The Marine Corps said the pilot was part of the Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101, based at Miramar.

An F-18, a supersonic jet used widely in the Marine Corps and Navy and by the stunt-flying Blue Angels, costs about $57 million. An F-18 crashed at Miramar -- known as the setting for the movie "Top Gun" -- in November 2006, and that pilot also ejected safely.

The crash was near University City High School, where students were kept locked in classrooms after the crash. Barbara Prince, a school secretary, said there was no damage to the campus and no one was injured.

Neighbors jolted by the crash said they initially thought it was the sound of gunshots, a train derailment or tractor-trailer trucks colliding.

"It was quite violent," said Ben Dishman, 55, who was resting on his couch after having back surgery. "I hear the jets from Miramar all the time. I often worry that one of them will hit one of these homes. It was inevitable. I feel very lucky."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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