Miramar Jet Crash Was Preventable – 13 Punished by Marine Corps

by on March 3, 2009 · 10 comments

in Media, San Diego, War and Peace

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.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Tina Tyler March 19, 2009 at 8:08 am

When will we hear the news what punishment Lt. Dan Neubauer will receive?

Please keep us updated.


Goatskull July 22, 2010 at 8:03 pm

You won’t. He wasn’t punished. He’s still flying also.


Goatskull July 22, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Also, he was following orders so regardless of the end result tragedy, he is off the hook so it’s a non issue.


Monte January 7, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Does that sound right? Lt. Dan Neubauer has no fault ?

That kind of decision making he displayed that resulted in civilian deaths?


john January 22, 2012 at 11:10 am

It wasn’t all his decisions. From where he was sitting and calling the shots the plane should have landed at Miramar fine. They aren’t giving enough details here. In addition to the one engine being out there was a problem with a fuel transfer pump that is supposed to be supplying the good engine with fuel but wasn’t. In this situation if the plane banks to one side a certain number of degrees, the remaining engine gets no fuel.
The pilot does not have the full NATOPS manual in front of him to alert him to such abnormal operational difficulties, the ground people do. Unfortunately while the pilot did relay his fuel state during this incident, the ground crew failed to note this, so did not refer to the proper part of the NATOPS manual which would have red flagged them to the probable catastrophe ahead.
It was a tragedy of one small but vital piece of information the pilot DID communicate but they ground people missed. While it might seem to most people all the pilot’s fault, there is no way he would have known when he banked to approach at miramar the plane would suddenly go into starvation for fuel. Landing at North Island is not the no brainer it would seem either. As the story indicates, North Island’s runways are much shorter- very important since he’s low on fuel and has to get it right in one pass- and it’s likely he’s never landed there before, whereas he is probably somewhat familiar with Miramar’s, though Hornets don’t typically operate there as they used to.

To Code: It was an accident. Lighten up. I have a hard time imagining the guy not thinking about this every day for the rest of his life.
IIRC from other coverage of the story he rode it out until the last seconds possible.


Christopher Moore January 23, 2012 at 11:29 am

Agreed, by the time he bailed out, that aircraft was basically a brick.
According to the investigation, he did everything he was supposed to do.

The people on the ground made the mistake, but Lt. Neubauer has to live with it – and the self righteous cranks too, I guess.


john January 24, 2012 at 4:31 am

Absolutely a brick, when the last engine goes the hydraulics go too, and it’s fly by wire though I could not confirm through research if the battery has more than marginal power. (It’s got an APU to start the engines and provide electrical, but that’s fed by the same fuel and while I don’t have access to the NATOPS manual to check this I’m pretty sure they don’t send the last vapors of JP-5 to the APU while the engine is competing for them)
I’m envisioning the engine goes out and the panels, instruments, comm, controls, all go black and useless. They did on the Phantoms I wrenched on.
That is a scary scenario.

Code 4: Fair enough. It should be said the story didn’t leave you with the particulars to imagine what really happened that day. Not faulting the author on that though, it would be a long read, this article is an update not a comprehensive summary.

It’s easy to think plane falls from sky, pilot’s fault. These machines have such complexity when a fault happens, maybe multiple problems, he can’t possibly expect or know all that he’s going to face. Often nobody knows until an event like this sees it all unfold. Still the Hornet’s got a very good record.


Code 4 January 22, 2012 at 4:57 am

One elects to serve in order to protect innocent people, not murder them. As such the killings of 2 infants and 2 women is a tragedy beyond comprehension. Especially given many opportunities at avoiding such a tragedy. A normal person should bow out or hang himself without question, but a military aviator is probably too egomaniacal to do so. My guess is neubauer is still flying for the USMC or making 200-300k/yr piloting for a Saudi prince who couldn’t care less for the deaths of 4 Americans infidels. Evil picture but most likely true.


Goatskull January 22, 2012 at 6:32 pm

Get off your high horse you uninformed nit wit. While this whole fiasco could have been avoided it was not murder. Murder has to be intentional. I love how you say “you guess” LT Neubaur is still flying for the Marines. Yes he is. It was very well publicized that since it was determined that he was not at fault that we would be allowed to continue his training and go on with his career. You shouldn’t have to guess. If you were keeping up with this then you would have known.


Code 4 January 23, 2012 at 9:10 pm

John, I must say you are a voice of reason. In retrospect my words does seem a bit harsh. I kinda got hung up on the images of the 2 dead infants and the article stating that there were many opportunities at averting this tragedy.


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