Minister identifies victims in jet crash

December 9, 2008 2:01:18 PM PST
Both engines of a military jet fighter failed before the aircraft crashed and burned in a residential area, killing three people on the ground as it destroyed two houses, a congressional aide said Tuesday. Investigators resumed the search for a missing child, believed to be 1-year-old, in the wreckage of one house. 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.

A minister says one of the victims had recently arrived from South Korea to help care for her daughter's newborn.

The Rev. Kevin Lee of the Korean United Methodist Church said Tuesday that the victims were Young Mi Yoon, who was in her mid-30s; her 2-month-old daughter, Rachel; and her mother, Suk Im Kim.

Lee says the grandmother was helping to care for the infant. Cadaver dogs were still searching for the body of another daughter, identified as 15-month-old Grace Yoon.

The San Diego County medical examiner's office has not officially released the names of the victims.

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 had been attempting 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 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.

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 kiss his wife and baby goodbye in the driveway just hours before the crash.

"I thought, what a beautiful sight. And then later in the day, they were gone," Rose said.

Amy Hegy, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, San Diego, said she spoke to the father of the children when he returned to the gutted home Monday night. Hegy said he was "calm" and stayed with friends. She also said the man had extended family in San Diego but would not reveal further details.

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 ejected safely.