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F/A-18 crashes into San Diego neighborhood

December 8, 2008 | 12:27 pm

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Photo credit: Sandy Huffaker / Getty Images

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*Updated at 3:30 p.m.

Officials said two people were killed when an F/A-18 military jet about to land at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar slammed into a San Diego neighborhood today. The pilot was able to eject safely.

Two in the house are dead and two are missing.

Neighbors said they heard sputtering, saw the jet wobbling, and then it crashed, creating a ball of fire. Afterward, neighbors said they saw the pilot wandering around in a daze. He had parachuted out of the jet and landed in the baseball field of nearby University City High School.

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.

“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, woop, dead silence.

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

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

Marine officials told The Times 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 the nearby 805 Freeway. He had taken off from the carrier Abraham Lincoln several miles off the coast.  His destination was the air station. Marine Col. Chris O’Connor pledges an in-depth investigation and to see “that the neighborhood is cleaned up as quickly as possible.”

Jason Widmer, who was working in the neighborhood, talked to the pilot after he ejected and landed.

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

Students at University City High were eating lunch when they saw the F/A-18. "It was coming in too low,” said student Mike Scott. 

“It was like the plane hit a wall: it went straight down."

Vanessa James, a neighbor, was taking out her trash when she heard a high-pitch boom.

"I heard the boom, came out, and saw a parachute coming out over a house into a canyon,” she said. Police and fire officials said one home was destroyed and another damaged in the crash that occurred just before noon.

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.” Paramedics got there within minutes to rescue the pilot, who had landed in a tree just beyond Glauser’s home.

"Can you imagine what’s going through his head when he’s ejecting and he sees his plane going down into a neighborhood?” she said.

San Diego Police Chief William Landsdowne said engine failure forced the pilot to eject from the two-seater jet. Only the one pilot was aboard.

Monica Munoz of the San Diego Police Department told The Times that a bomb unit was checking the crash zone to deal with any jet fuel that has not burned.

Smoke billowed from homes in the University City section of San Diego, about two miles from the air station.

Three homes were lost.

-- Tony Perry and Richard Marosi


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