Power failure blamed in crash of Marine jet in San Diego

Investigators say structural issues with the F/A-18 fighter were not involved. The pilot had been told to make an ‘arrested landing’ at Miramar Air Station.

The Marine fighter plane that crashed into a residential San Diego neighborhood Monday had suffered power failure, a local member of Congress said today.

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine), the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said an initial investigation has found no link to the structural problems that caused the F/A-18 fleet at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar to be grounded briefly in October.

Marine Corps officials disclosed today that the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln was stationed 50 miles off the coast of San Diego when the pilot departed on his ill-fated flight.

Initial indications suggest that engine failure may have played a role, though we will not know for certain until an investigation is concluded,” Marine Corps officials said in a statement.

They also said the pilot was told to make an “arrested landing” at Miramar when his equipment failure became apparent. An arrested landing would have involved using a tailhook device that catches the back end of the plane when it touches down, much like the method used when a jet lands on an aircraft carrier.

Meanwhile, civilian and military retrieval specialists continued to comb the smoldering wreckage of a home in the University City neighborhood for a fourth resident thought to have been killed. Three bodies were retrieved Monday.

The family living in the house was tentatively identified as Dong Yun Yoon and his wife, Young M. Yoon, and their daughters Grace, 15 months, and Rachel, 2 months. Young Yoon’s mother, Suk Kim, was visiting from South Korea. Dong Yun Yoon was at work when the crash occurred. The three bodies recovered are those of Young Yoon, Suk Kim, and one of the Yoons’ daughters. The medical examiner is awaiting dental records before making formal identifications.

Cadaver dogs are being used in the search for the second daughter. If the dogs are unsuccessful in finding the body, firefighters will sift through the debris by hand, said Fire Department spokesman Maurice Luque.

The Rev. Kevin Lee, associate pastor of the Korean United Methodist of Church of San Diego, said he has been counseling the father. “This is beyond description – the pain he is going through,” Lee said. “But he has faith in Christ.”

The plane lost altitude and began to wobble. Residents of University City looked up and knew something was terribly wrong. Within seconds, the plane nosed downward and picked up speed, clipping the top of a jacaranda tree and smashing into the Yoons’ Cather Avenue home.

Burning debris and the smell of jet fuel spread in all directions. Three houses and four vehicles were destroyed by flames, 20 homes were evacuated and University City was covered in thick, acrid black smoke. Neighborhood schools were put on lockdown as officials scrambled to find the cause of the explosions and fireball.

The pilot had parachuted moments before the crash, landing safely in a tree between the homes and Interstate 805 about two miles from Miramar. Neighbors said they saw the pilot wandering around in a daze.

Jason Widmer, who was working in the neighborhood, talked to the pilot after he landed. The pilot said he had tried to steer into a brushy canyon to avoid homes.

He was pretty shook up,” Widmer said. “And pretty concerned if he had killed anyone. He had seen his bird go into a house.”

The Marine Corps said the pilot, described as a lieutenant in his 20s, was taken to Naval Medical Center San Diego with minor injuries.

John Kreischer, 62, was returning home from taking pictures at La Jolla Cove when he spotted the plane only 300 to 500 feet in the sky shortly before noon.

It was mushing through the air,” Kreischer said. “It was chugging along with what seemed like one engine. Then I heard a roar of engine and all of a sudden, whoop, dead silence.

This guy could have turned it around and put it in the ocean. He was never going to make it to Miramar.”

More than 100 firefighters were on the scene within minutes, along with crash specialists from the Marine Corps and dozens of San Diego police officers.

My heart goes out to the family of the victims and to the community of University City,” Mayor Jerry Sanders said.

Marine officials said the pilot was part of a training squadron and that he was trying to aim the plane at a deserted canyon to avoid slamming into homes or Interstate 805.

Marine Col. Chris O’Connor pledged an in-depth investigation and to see “that the neighborhood is cleaned up as quickly as possible.”

Students at University City High were eating lunch when they saw the F/A-18D.

It was coming in too low,” student Mike Scott said. “It was like the plane hit a wall: It went straight down.”

Vanessa James, a neighbor, was taking out her trash when she heard the plane.

I heard the boom, came out and saw a parachute coming out over a house into a canyon,” she said.

Paulette Glauser, a neighbor, said she saw the homes and cars on fire and people running away from the flames.

One girl was hysterical,” Glauser said. “I got her a blanket and water. The explosion was so loud and so horrifying.”

Glauser thought of the pilot: “Can you imagine what’s going through his head when he’s ejecting and he sees his plane going down into a neighborhood?”

Marosi and Perry are Times staff writers.

 Richard.maros@latimes.com

 Tony.perry@latimes.com

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