SAN DIEGO – Both engines of a military jet fighter failed before the aircraft crashed and burned in a residential area, killing four people on the ground as it destroyed two houses, a congressional aide said Tuesday.
Investigators also found the remains of a fourth person in the rubble, a child 15 months old. Neighbors were in shock at the tragedy that befell the child's family Monday, hours after the father kissed his wife and baby goodbye in the driveway.
The twin-engine F/A-18D Hornet went down about two miles from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
No official initial finding of the cause of the crash was given, but a congressional aide who had been briefed on the crash said the pilot was trying to land at Miramar after his right engine malfunctioned. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was not yet public.
While the pilot was on final approach to the runway, the aircraft 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.
Four people — a mother, her two young children and a grandmother — were killed in one house. One other home was destroyed, and three were damaged.
Fire Department spokesman Maurice Luque identified the child found Tuesday as 15-month-old Grace Yoon.
The family's pastor, the Rev. Kevin Lee of the Korean United Methodist Church, identified the other victims as Young Mi Yoon, Grace's mother, who was in her mid-30s; her 2-month-old daughter, Rachel; and her mother, Suk Im Kim, who had recently arrived from South Korea to help care for her daughter's newborn.
Neighbors said the family of Korean immigrants moved into the area about three months ago. Resident Choko McConnell, 85, a widow who lives down the street, said she often saw the grandmother pushing a child in a stroller.
"I cried all night," McConnell said. "A family perished, a young family."
Michael Rose, 44, said he often spoke with the family and had seen the father bid his wife and infant goodbye just hours before the crash.
"I thought, what a beautiful sight. And then later in the day, they were gone," Rose said.
Military aircraft frequently streak over the neighborhood, two miles from the base, but residents said the plane that crashed Monday was flying extremely low.
The pilot 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."
Rep. Duncan Hunter, who represents part of San Diego, requested that the Marine Corps provide maintenance records of the jet fighter to determine whether any other aircraft might have mechanical problems.
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 ejected safely.