Pilot Should Have Landed At North Island
By San Diego Suburban Newspapers / La Jolla Light / March 3, 2009
A military jet crash that killed four civilians in University City last fall was a preventable accident caused by mechanical problems and a series of poor decisions, Marine Corps officials said today. The pilot of the disabled F/A-18D Hornet that went down near Nobel Drive and Interstate 805 on Dec. 8 should have made an emergency landing at Naval Air Station North Island, which was closer and involved an approach over water, USMC authorities said during a briefing this afternoon.
Instead, Lt. Dan Neubauer was attempting, with approvals from supervising officers, to reach Marine Corps Air Station Miramar when the fighter jet’s second engine went out about three miles west of the air base.
Killed in the 11:59 a.m. crash were Young Mi Yoon, 36; her daughters, 15-month-old Grace and 7-week-old Rachel; and Yoon’s 60-year-old mother, Seokim Kim.
Neubauer, 28, safely parachuted into the residential area just east of La Jolla.
The fiery crash destroyed the Yoons’ rented Cather Avenue house along with a next-door residence that was unoccupied at the time.
Audiotapes of air-traffic radio transmissions released by the Federal Aviation Administration this morning revealed that Neubauer was repeatedly offered the option of landing at North Island, which is surrounded to the north, west and south by San Diego Bay and the Pacific Ocean.
In addition to making a faulty decision to head to Miramar, the pilot and his supervising officers — four of whom were relieved of their duties over the accident — violated various other emergency procedures after one of the aircraft’s engines went out during a training flight over the ocean, officials said.”Ultimately this tragic accident was avoidable through human factors,” Maj. Gen. Randolph Alles told reporters.
Neubauer made his first radio transmission about the equipment failure about 11:30 a.m., shortly after taking off from the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. At the time, he radioed that he was about 13,000 feet above the ocean, some 20 miles south of Coronado. “I’ve got, uh, down to (a) single engine … possibly a problem with the other engine, and time, uh, fuel remaining about, uh, 20 to 30 minutes,” the lieutenant advised.
A controller then asked him where he wanted to land, apparently assuming that Neubauer intended to go to North Island.”I’m actually going to try to take it to Miramar, if possible,” the pilot responded.To that statement, the controller replied, “OK, just let me know what you want to do.”
After getting direction on what heading to take, Neubauer radioed, “Thank you, and I’m coordinating with … some people on the ground to try and figure out what we’re doing.”
Neubauer’s and his commanders’ failure to follow proper procedures exacerbated the crisis and ultimately caused the jet’s second engine to lose its fuel supply, a likelihood that “was not recognized the pilot or by squadron supervisory personnel,” said Col. John Rupp, operations officer of the 3rd Marine Air Wing.
“These malfunctions in combination presented the pilot with a complex emergency that was compounded by a series of well-intentioned but incorrect decisions, both inside the cockpit and in the squadron’s ready room,” Rupp told news crews.
Above all, the jet should have gone straight to the Coronado-area naval base, a move that would have prevented the deadly crash, according to Marine Corps officials.”Landing at North Island was the prudent and correct decision to make in this emergency,”‘ Rupp said. “Unfortunately, that decision was never made.”
In addition to the officer demotions, the accident resulted in reprimands for nine other Marine Corps personnel.Neubauer remains grounded pending further review into his actions on the day of the accident.
“Headquarters Marine Corps is the final decision authority regarding what, if any, flight status the pilot will retain,” Alles said.
Marine Corps punishes 13 for San Diego jet crash
By Richard Lardner / Associated Press / March 3, 2009
WASHINGTON (AP) – Thirteen Marines have been disciplined for errors that led a disabled jet fighter to crash in a San Diego neighborhood last December, killing four members of one family, service officials told lawmakers on Tuesday.
Four officers at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar near San Diego have been relieved of duty for directing the F/A-18D Hornet to fly over the residential area, the officials said. Nine other military personnel received lesser reprimands.
With his jet having engine problems, the pilot should have been told to fly over San Diego Bay and land at another base that sits on the tip of a peninsula, the officials said.
The Marine Corps has not decided whether to discipline the pilot, who ejected safely, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., told The Associated Press.”He probably won’t fly anymore,” said Hunter, a Marine veteran.Hunter was among the lawmakers who received a closed-door briefing Tuesday on the results of the Marine Corps’ investigation into the Dec. 8 crash.
During the 90-minute session, Lt. Gen. George Trautman, the Marine Corps top aviator, and other officers described a series of mechanical and human errors that could have been avoided, Hunter said.
The jet’s right engine went out due to an oil leak shortly after the fighter left the deck of the Navy aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln on a training flight. The aircraft can fly on one engine, so losing power in one of the General Electric turbofan engines was not cause for extreme concern. At the same time, however, the plane was having trouble moving fuel from its tanks to the engines.
Marine Corps aviation rules dictate that a plane with such mechanical failures should land immediately. The investigation determined the best and safest option was to bring the aircraft down at Naval Air Station North Island near Coronado.
“It turns out, North Island said three different times, ‘You’re cleared to land here,'” Hunter said.Yet the pilot didn’t understand what was happening, and a lack of communication between him and the ground crew kept the plane on course for Miramar, according to Hunter.
A familiarity with Miramar was also a factor. The runways there are also 4,000 feet longer than at North Island, which allows more room for error when guiding in a damaged aircraft.
As the jet approached Miramar, the left engine failed because it was getting too little fuel, leaving the plane without power. Seventeen seconds later, the pilot ejected.The 50,000-pound aircraft slammed into a neighborhood, sending flames and plumes of smoke skyward.
Four members of a family were killed in their home – Young Mi Yoon, 36; her daughters Grace, 15 months, and Rachel, 2 months; and her mother, Suk Im Kim, 60. Kim was visiting from South Korea.