SAN DIEGO – A military jet crash that resulted in the death of four people and the destruction of two San Diego homes was "clearly avoidable," military officials said in a press conference Tuesday.
"The tragedy that occurred on the 8th of December was caused by mechanical malfunctions on two different engines ... which presented the pilot with a complex emergency compounded by well-intended but incorrect decisions which ultimately resulted in the fuel starvation of the aircraft's remaining engine.," said Col. John Rupp, operations officer for the 3D Marine Aircraft Wing in San Diego.
Among those incorrect decisions, Rupp said, was the decision by maintenance crews to allow the aircraft to fly despite reports of a problem with its fuel flow; the decision by the pilot to try to land at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar near San Diego rather than the nearby Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado despite losing function of the jet's right engine; and a series of miscommunications and bad assumptions by the pilot and officers directing him that eventually caused the left engine to "flame out."
Upon realizing he could no longer control the aircraft the pilot ejected safely.
The plane went on to crash into the University City neighborhood killing four members of a Korean family in their home — Young Mi Yoon, 36; her daughters Grace, 15 months, and Rachel, 2 months; and her mother Suk Im Kim, 60 — and incinerating two homes and damaging three others.
Officials in Washington, D.C., said Tuesday that 13 Marine Corps personnel have been disciplined for errors in connection with the crash. Service officials told members of Congress that four Marine Corps officers have been relieved of duty for directing the Hornet to fly over the residential area. Nine other military personnel received lesser reprimands. Officials said the pilot should have been told to fly over San Diego Bay and land at Coronado.
Rupp said the pilot stayed in the aircraft "until the possible minute" and tried — and almost succeeded — to divert the aircraft to a nearby canyon "in an attempt to save lives."
Despite mistakes made, Assistant Wing Commander Major Gen. Randolphe Alles said, "There is no evidence of criminal wrong doing."
Rupp said the military has made various adjustments, including the implementation of new maintenance procedures and new training procedures, in an effort to prevent a tragedy like this from happening again.