Marine Jet Crashes; Pilot OK

December 1st, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Marine Jet Crashes; Pilot OK

San Diego Union-Tribune
December 1, 2006
Past incidents point to training error or poor aircraft upkeep as possible causes
By Rick Rogers, Staff Writer
The pilot of a single-seat jet fighter that crashed at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station yesterday escaped with some cuts and bruises, base officials said.
He ejected shortly before his $40 million F/A-18 Hornet burst into flames about 3 miles east of the Miramar air field. He was found near the wreckage and taken back to base headquarters in an ambulance.
“The pilot is safe,” said Maj. Jason Johnston, a Miramar spokesman. Johnston declined to identify the pilot, except to say that he was from VMFAT-101, a Marine fighter-attack training squadron.
The crash, which occurred at about 12:20 p.m., caused a small brush fire near Rue Chantemar, south of Pomerado Road and on base property, said Maurice Luque, a spokesman for the San Diego Fire Department. The flames were extinguished shortly afterward.
Several witnesses said the aircraft came to rest in an open field on the base less than a mile from part of Scripps Ranch, a sprawling housing development known for its high number of families.
Marine officials said they had launched an investigation and wouldn't speculate on causes of the crash until it was completed. Such probes can last a year or longer.
Based on past cases, some aviation observers said, it might be a training error or poor maintenance of the jet.
“The bad news is that because of the (war) missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, a lot of equipment is overdue for maintenance and repair,” said Winslow Wheeler at the Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C. The nonpartisan think-tank does not accept money from defense companies or advocate policy positions.
“That plane probably has a maintenance record, and it would be interesting to know the last time it had its engines replaced or if repair work on it had been deferred,” Winslow said.
The F/A-18 Hornet is a supersonic, all-weather attack aircraft that can operate from land bases or aircraft carriers. A staple in the Navy and Marine Corps, it can perform a variety of roles: air superiority, fighter escort, suppression of enemy air defenses, reconnaissance, forward air control, close and deep air support, and day and night strike missions.
For at least a year now, the Marine Corps has done a good job in holding the line against aircraft accidents.
But in 2004, it suffered its most accident-prone year since 1990, prompting former Marine Commandant Gen. Mike Hagee to issue a safety message that said: “We are currently taking significant losses from a self-inflicted internal threat: noncombat mishaps. Our peacetime training mistakes are significantly degrading our ability to prosecute the global war on terrorism.”
During one stretch of that year, 15 fighter-jet crashes killed 15 Marines. Eight of those accidents and 10 of those deaths involved aircraft based at the Miramar base.
The deadliest accidents happened during training missions.
In January 2004, a UH-1N Huey helicopter crashed on Camp Pendleton, killing all four Marines on board.
Two months later, a UC-35 Cessna Citation built for the military crashed on approach to Miramar. Four Marines died in the incident.
In July 2004, two F/A-18 fighters based at Miramar collided over Oregon, killing the pilots of both planes.
Human error was suspected in a number of those crashes, although the Marines Corps has not publicized its final rulings in any of the cases.
Not everyone believes human error was to blame. Marcus Corbin, a senior analyst for the Center for Defense Information, said in 2004 that the main problem likely rested with the aircraft.
“The (military) leadership is buying stuff that is unreliable and is too complex,” he said. “And the reason there are more accidents during training missions in the United States, as opposed to overseas in combat, is because you send your best stuff to war and you make sure it is all working.”

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