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'I don't blame pilot', says San Diego jet crash father

'I know he did everything he could'

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The man who on Monday lost his wife, two daughters and mother-in-law in the San Diego jet fighter crash says he doesn't blame the pilot, who "did everything he could" to avoid the disaster.

Don Yoon, 37, yesterday visited the remains of his home in the suburb of University City. His Cather Avenue house was completely destroyed when a F/A-18D Hornet lost power in both engines while trying to land at nearby Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

The pilot - named as Lt Dan Neubauer of Marine Corps Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101 - ejected safely, suffering only minor injuries after coming down in trees. The aircraft ploughed into Yoon's residence, killing his wife Youngmi Lee, 36, the couple's daughters, two-month-old Rachel and 15-month-old Grace, and his mother-in-law, Seokim Kim, 60.

Yoon, who according to the San Diego Union-Tribune was at work at the time of the crash, told reporters: “Nobody expected such a horrible thing to happen, especially right here, right [in] our house. I know God is taking care of my [family].”

Neubauer told several people at the scene he "lost an engine during a training flight from the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln off the Southern California coast". He tried to reach Miramar, but "lost the second engine shortly before the accident".

Retired naval aviator Steve Diamond, who witnessed the incident and "spoke with Neubauer moments afterward", explained that "all military pilots train for a single-engine failure, although it's a rare event". He added: “If a pilot has any control over the airplane, he's going to stay with it."

Retired Major General Bob Butcher of the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation, who flew Marine jets from 1959 to 1992, said: “If you lost one engine, you'd pick the nearest airport where it was safe for you to land. The guy was flying the most direct route he could to get the plane on the ground.”

However, the San Diego Union-Tribune raises a question mark over why Neubauer "chose to land at Miramar, which involves an approach over heavily populated La Jolla and University City, instead of North Island Naval Air Station, which could be approached entirely over water".

The paper notes that the crashed aircraft missed University City High School by a quarter of a mile. It reports: "In 1979, a defense researcher warned in a report against building the school or houses too close to the end of the Miramar runway. Many residents fought construction of the school for 17 years because of safety and environmental issues, but the school's backers prevailed, and University City High opened in 1981."

The study's author, Jerry Kopecek, said: “A substantial threat of a catastrophic accident exists in the community west of Miramar."

A Marine spokesman, meanwhile, said that "naval and federal investigators are arriving in San Diego to start analyzing what caused the accident". The Miramar-based 3rd Marine Air Wing will convene a “aircraft mishap board” which will "recommend improvements based on lessons learned from the incident", while the military plans a "separate investigation to try to determine legal responsibility for the crash".

At the scene yesterday, Yoon said of Neubauer: "I don't want him to suffer from this accident. I know he's one of our treasures for the country. And I don't blame him, I don't have any hard feelings. I know he did everything he could." ®

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