The commander of Lemoore Naval Air Station said Thursday "many investigations" will follow a fatal overnight incident in which two people managed to breach security Wednesday night and crash into an FA-18E warplane.
Both occupants of the Jeep, a male driver and a female passenger in the Cherokee died.
The commander, Capt. Monte Ashliman, said neither person who died had any military affiliation and that there is no reason to believe that the naval air station was the target of a terrorist attack. But in a press conference at the base, he did not provide specifics about how the Jeep was able to get past a "control point," and damage the multi-million dollar jet.
Lemoore has a heavily fortified main gate with steel barriers that must be lowered before vehicles can pass into the facility. The gate is guarded by military police armed with assault rifles. Officials indicated that the Jeep did not enter through the gate, but deflected questions about how it reached the jet, which Ashliman was near a runway at the north end of the station, about 7 miles away from the gate.
"Whether it's our fault, or someone else's fault ... a tragedy happened that shouldn't happen and we've all got to take a look and see where we can get better so that it doesn't happen again," Ashliman said.
The incident began when California Highway Patrol officers spotted a car on the side of Highway 41 at Jackson Avenue and stopped to investigate. The driver sped away from officers, driving the wrong way on Highway 198. About 11:30 p.m., the Jeep went through the gate and onto the base through the "control point." Naval security forces picked up the pursuit while a CHP helicopter tracked the vehicle.
The driver collided with the horizontal stabilizer of an FA-18E fighter jet, authorities said. The driver was taken to a hospital, where he died. The passenger died at the scene.
"We don't know why they were running," Lt. Dave Knoff, commander of the CHP's Hanford station, said at the press conference.
Lemoore is the largest naval installation in the country for carrier-based aircraft, and soon will be getting larger. Currently, 15 active F-18 fighter jet squadrons and one auxiliary squadron are stationed there. One more is on its way in August, and another will move to Lemoore in 2018.
A year from now, the station also will get some of the first crews to fly the F-35, America's newest fighter jet. In all, more than 3,000 people -- naval aviators and their family members -- will be added to the base before 2019.
About 60 percent of the nation's naval fighter jets will be based at Lemoore Naval Air Station. The Pacific Strike Fighter Wing, as it's called, is growing due to the Department of Defense's plans to divert 60 percent of all spending to the Pacific theater.
This article was written by Jim Guy from The Fresno Bee and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.