[From the front page of Military.com]
A pilot struggling to control a crippled Marine Corps jet bypassed a chance to land at a coastal Navy base and instead flew toward an inland base, where minutes later the fighter crashed into a San Diego neighborhood and killed four people, recordings released Tuesday revealed.
Meanwhile, military officials say that four officers at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar have been relieved of duty in connection with the fatal crash and nine other military personnel received lesser reprimands. Officials said the 13 were disciplined for a series of avoidable mechanical and human errors that led to the crash, which killed four members of the same family, including two children.
"It was collectively bad decision-making," said Col. John Rupp, operations officer for the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
Recordings of conversations between federal air controllers and the pilot of the F/A-18D Hornet show the pilot repeatedly was offered a chance to land the plane at the Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado. The base sits at the tip of a peninsula with a flight path over water.
Instead, the Federal Aviation Administration tapes disclose, the pilot decided to fly the jet, which had lost one engine and was showing signs of trouble with the second, to the inland Miramar base, which is about 10 miles north of Coronado.
That route took him over the University City neighborhood, where the Dec. 8 crash incinerated two homes and damaged three others.
"This was a tragic incident that could have been prevented," Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who was among the lawmakers who received a closed-door briefing Tuesday on the results of the Marine Corps' investigation into the crash, said in a statement.
The pilot and senior officers "did not consult their checklists and follow appropriate procedure," Hunter said. Had those rules been followed, "the crash would not have occurred."
Four officers at Miramar have been relieved of duty for failing to follow safety procedures and allowing the Hornet to fly over the residential area, while nine other military personnel received lesser reprimands.
According to the military, 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, the plane was having trouble moving fuel from its tanks to the engines. Marine Corps aviation rules dictate that a plane with such a combination of mechanical failures should land immediately. The investigation determined the best and safest option was to bring the aircraft down at Coronado, not Miramar.
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.
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