SAN DIEGO – Both engines of a military jet fighter failed before the aircraft crashed and burned in a residential area, killing three people on the ground, a congressional aide said Tuesday.
Investigators resumed the search for a child missing in the wreckage of one house.
The twin-engine F/A-18D Hornet went down Monday about two miles from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
No official initial finding of the cause of the crash was given.
However, the pilot had been attempting to land at Miramar after his right engine malfunctioned, said a congressional aide who had been briefed but who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not yet public.
While the pilot was on final approach to the runway the aircraft also lost thrust from its left engine, and the pilot ejected, the aide said Tuesday.
The pilot ended up suspended by his parachute in a tree. He was being treated at a hospital.
Three people — a mother, her baby and a grandmother — were killed in one house and officials said a fourth person, believed to be a small child, was in the house and had not been found. The search for the child had been suspended during the night.
One other home was destroyed and three were damaged.
"It happened in a split second — boom, boom, boom," said Alain Blanc, 64, a retired photographer who lives next to the destroyed homes and was working on his computer. "The whole house started shaking and rocking."
Military aircraft frequently streak over the neighborhood, two miles from the base, but residents said the imperiled aircraft was flying extremely low.
The San Diego County Medical Examiner said it had tentatively identified each of the victims and was in contact with family members for confirmation. No names were released.
The pilot, who ended up hanging by his parachute from a tree in a canyon beneath the neighborhood, was in stable condition at a Navy hospital, said 1st Lt. Katheryn Putnam, a Miramar spokeswoman. He had been returning from training on the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln off the coast, she said.
Investigators will review information from a flight data recorder. There was no indication the pilot was using alcohol or drugs, Putnam said.
Dawn Lyons spoke to the pilot just after he landed in the tree.
"I saw an incredibly composed person," Lyons said. "He didn't have any scrapes or bruises. He was very lucid."
There was little sign of the plane in the smoking ruins, but a piece of cockpit sat on the roof of one home, and a charred jet engine lay on the street. Authorities said the smoke wreckage was toxic and about 20 homes were evacuated.
A Marine Corps bomb disposal truck was brought to the neighborhood in the University City section of San Diego, although police assured residents there was no explosive ordnance aboard the jet.
The Navy recently inspected hundreds of F/A-18 Hornets, built by Boeing Co., after discovering "fatigue cracks" on more than a dozen of them. The inspections looked for cracks in a hinge that connects the aileron — a flap that helps stabilize the jet in flight — to the wing.
The Navy announced last month it had grounded 10 of the $57 million fighters and placed flight restrictions on 20 more until repairs could be made.
The supersonic jet is widely used by the Marine Corps and Navy and by the stunt-flying Blue Angels. An F-18 crashed at Miramar — the setting for the movie "Top Gun" — in November 2006, and that pilot also ejected safely.