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San Diego F-18 crash deaths 'avoidable'

Mechanical failure and human error led to tragedy

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The F/A-18D Hornet crash which last December claimed four lives after the aircraft came down in a suburb of San Diego was "avoidable", the BBC reports.

The Hornet - reportedly piloted by Lt Dan Neubauer of Marine Corps Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101 - was on a training flight from the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln when the right engine failed due to an oil leak shortly after take off.

Instead of opting to land at Naval Air Station North Island on the tip of a peninsula in San Diego Bay - an approach over water - the pilot made for Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, several miles inland and surrounded by residential communities.

As Neubauer made his approach, a problem in pumping fuel from the tanks to the engines provoked the second General Electric turbofan to fail. Seventeen seconds later he ejected safely, but the aircraft crashed into a house in the suburb of University City, killing two small children, their mother and grandmother.

Tapes subsequently released by the Federal Aviation Administration demonstrated that air traffic controllers "told the pilot three times that he was cleared to land at North Island".

Marine Col John Rupp told a press conference: "These malfunctions in combination presented the pilot with a complex emergency that was compounded by a series of well-intentioned but incorrect decisions, both inside the cockpit and in the squadron's ready room."

As a result of the investigation, "four senior officers have been relieved of duty - meaning they will probably not be promoted", while "nine other marines have received less career-damaging reprimands". The pilot of the aircraft has been grounded pending a decision on possible disciplinary action.

However, Republican member of the US House of Representatives Duncan Hunter, who was present at a closed-door Marine briefing into the accident, said: "He probably won't fly anymore."

Following the crash, the owner of the destroyed property, Don Yoon, said he didn't blame the pilot who "did everything he could" to avoid the disaster. Yoon, who lost wife Youngmi Lee, 36, his daughters, two-month-old Rachel and 15-month-old Grace, and his mother-in-law, Seokim Kim, 60, 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."

Hunter concluded, though, that the pilot "didn't understand what was happening, and a lack of communication between him and the ground crew kept the plane on course for Miramar". ®

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