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Explosion of Marine jet aboard the John C. Stennis blamed on debris in engine

March 31, 2011 |  7:43 pm


110330-N-0673M-013  The two most seriously injured of the 11 people who were hurt when a Marine fighter jet caught fire on the flight deck of the carrier John C. Stennis were hurt when an engine exploded and spewed out parts, the carrier's commanding officer said Thursday.

One sailor suffered a fractured femur when he was hit by engine parts flying out of an F/A-18C Hornet that had a "catastrophic" engine failure 10 seconds before being launched. The second sailor suffered puncture wounds to his chest.

The two were preparing an EA-6B electronic warfare plane for launch after the Hornet.

Four injured sailors were airlifted to Naval Medical Center San Diego after the incident that occurred Wednesday afternoon while the carrier was on a training mission about 100 miles off the Southern California coast. Two have been treated and released.

Besides the four that were airlifted to San Diego, seven other people on the flight deck were also injured: mostly with light burns, scrapped knees and some ankle injuries, Capt. Ronald Reis told reporters in a news conference over ship-to-shore communications.

The seven were treated by medical personnel  aboard the carrier. The pilot, a Marine first lieutenant, was pulled from the cockpit by flight deck crew members and was uninjured.

Reis said the fire and explosion appear to have been caused by debris that was loose in one of the engines. The explosion severed a fuel line, sending fire and thick, black smoke over the deck, Reis said.

Reis, who witnessed the mishap from the tower that overlooks the deck, said he gave a classic order over the ship's public address system, "Fight the fire, fight the fire." Within minutes the fire was doused, although damage to the plane was estimated at more than $1 million.

Reis said he was proud of how quickly the crew doused the flames before they could spread to nearby aircraft. "The flight deck of a carrier is very unforgiving," he said.

Among the injured were two civilian maintenance workers. It is routine, Reis said, for Marine squadrons to employ civilian maintenance workers during training missions.

A Navy investigation will determine the cause of the engine failure, Reis said.

A Marine board will decide if the pilot can return to flight status, although Reis said he expects that decision to be made quickly because there does not seem to be any indication the pilot did anything wrong.

The carrier's home port is Bremerton, Wash. The plane is from a squadron at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego.

--Tony Perry in San Diego



Photo: An EA-6B electronic warfare plane prepares to launch from the carrier John C. Stennis. Credit: U.S. Navy