Marines rescued after jet crashes off Mexico

By Jessica King

City News Service

Two Miramar-based Marines who were aboard an F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet that crashed in the Pacific Ocean off Mexico were rescued early Thursday after spending some four hours in the water, a Coast Guard spokesman said.

The Marines — a pilot and a weapon system officer — were rescued about 2:30 a.m. in stable condition, said USCG Petty Officer 2nd Class Henry Dunphy, a spokesman for the agency. They were hoisted aboard a Coast Guard helicopter, then immediately flown to a hospital for evaluation, he said.

The cause of the crash was under investigation, said Marine 1st Lt. Maureen Dooley of Miramar.

Two F/A-18 Hornets based in Miramar were flying about 60 nautical miles south of Point Loma about 10:15 p.m. Wednesday when communications with one of the pilots ended, Dunphy said. The second pilot called in, saying he spotted debris in the water.

Two San Diego-based Coast Guard cutters and a C-130 plane from Sacramento were immediately sent to look for the missing aviators, and a U.S Navy ship was diverted to the area to assist. Rescuers aboard one of the cutters heard the Marines calling for help, Dunphy said.

The F/A-18 Hornet is designed for dogfights and attacks on ground targets. It can carry a wide range of ordnance, including air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles.

This week’s crash was not the first in recent San Diego history involving an F/A-18 Hornet.

On Dec. 8, 2008, an F/A-18 Hornet crashed into a University City house while approaching Miramar, killing four family members inside. The crash also destroyed a next-door residence that was unoccupied at the time. The pilot, who safely ejected, was placed on probation for what military investigators called a series of bad decisions.

Last March, the engine on another F/A-18 Hornet exploded and caused a fire as the jet was about to launch from the USS John C. Stennis off the coast of San Diego. The aircraft was a total loss and 11 flight deck crew members were injured, but the pilot escaped unscathed.

So far this year, there have been five serious military accidents in the San Diego area. In addition to the crash Wednesday night and the explosion on the Stennis last March, there have been three fatal accidents at the sprawling Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base.

On Jan. 14, a 29-ton amphibious personnel carrier capsized and sank during maneuvers in the Del Mar Boat Basin, killing Iraq war veteran Sgt. Wesley J. Rice, 27, of San Antonio, Texas. A combination of mechanical failures, training lapses and insufficient supervision was blamed for the accident.

On March, 7, Navy Constructionman Mychael A. Flint, 21, of Fort Ann, N.Y., and Petty Officer 3rd Class Daniel M. Shirar, 27, of Baytown, Texas, were killed when the seven-ton military water-hauling truck they were in crashed during a training operation.

On July 6, one Marine was killed and five others injured when the Bell UH-1Y Huey helicopter they were on went down in an open, hilly area in the northwestern reaches of Camp Pendleton. The Marine who died was identified as Sgt. Trevor Cook, 25, of Orleans, N.Y.