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Dean Martin's Son Pilot of Missing Fighter Plane

March 24, 1987|JERRY BELCHER and LOUIS SAHAGUN | Times Staff Writers

RIVERSIDE — A California Air National Guard jet fighter piloted by Capt. Dean Paul Martin, actor and eldest son of entertainer Dean Martin, was still missing late Monday as a three-day air search ended for the night. The search was to resume today.

It is believed that Martin's plane, one of a flight of three planes, crashed into the side of Mt. San Gorgonio, about 22 miles northeast of here.

Martin, 35, was at the controls of the F-4C Phantom when the jet vanished from the radar screen about 10 minutes after taking off at 1:45 p.m. Saturday from March Air Force Base on a routine training mission, an Air National Guard spokesman said Monday.

Also aboard was Capt. Ramon Ortiz, 39, of Las Vegas, the supersonic jet's weapons system officer, said Guard spokesman Maj. Steven Mensik.

Mensik said the other two pilots responded to radioed directions from a Federal Aviation Administration controller at Ontario International Airport to turn left as they neared the mountain. But there was no response from Martin.

"Our last reading of (Martin's) altitude was 11,300 (feet)," Mensik said. Mt. San Gorgonio is about 11,500 feet high. "There was no communication back," he said. "There was no communication back that he was having trouble."

Mensik also said that "at this point there is no reason to believe that the FAA controller who handled the aircraft . . . had any fault in this."

He said no signals have been heard from the missing plane's emergency transmitter or from transmitters on the crew's parachutes.

Mensik also said that weather apparently was not a factor in the presumed crash, although the three planes did encounter clouds between 3,000 and 9,000 feet.

He held out cautious hope that Martin and Ortiz might still be alive. "They could be fine," he said. "It's just a matter of finding them."

Others Land Safely

The other two Phantoms returned safely to base. All three planes are from the Air National Guard's 163rd Tactical Fighter Group based at March AFB.

Mensik described Martin as "one of the best pilots in this unit." He said Martin had about 400 hours of military flying time. He said he joined the Air National Guard in 1980 and had been with the 163rd at March since 1982.

The spokesman said the Phantom Martin was flying was between 24 and 25 years old. "They (the Phantoms) may be old but they are well taken care of," he said.

A helicopter from Edwards Air Force Base rescue service began searching for the missing plane at 4:30 p.m. Saturday, but was called back because of high winds and blowing snow, Mensik said.

The search Sunday was hampered by as much as three feet of snow and winds of up to 50 m.p.h., according to the San Bernardino CountySheriff's Department.

Focus of Search

On Monday, Mensik said, the search was concentrated on a 5-square-mile area near the summit of Mt. San Gorgonio. Planes from the 903rd Tactical Airlift Wing at March and from the Civil Air Patrol were searching the area, along with helicopters from the U.S. Customs Service, Edwards AFB, and the Sheriff's Department.

Mt. San Gorgonio was also the scene of a 1977 private jet crash in which Mrs. Natalie (Dolly) Sinatra, 82, and three others were killed. She was the mother of entertainer Frank Sinatra.

Martin recently completed a pilot film for a proposed Fox Television series called "A Single Man." He was to have been the lead in the show, according to Joyce Hinrichsen, spokeswoman for Stephen Cannell Productions.

During the 1985-86 season, he starred in NBC's "Misfits of Science" series. A one-time tennis professional, he also had a starring role in the 1979 tennis motion picture "Players." Ali McGraw co-starred.

Eldest Child

He is the eldest of Dean Martin's three children by his former wife, Jeanne.

Publicist Warren Cowan said there would be no statement from the singer or his family until the flier's fate has been determined.

At the age of 14, Dean Paul Martin formed a rock band with Desi Arnaz Jr., son of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, and a neighbor, Billy Hinsche. The group, which called itself Dino, Desi and Billy, had one hit, "I'm a Fool."

Martin earned his civilian flying license at 16, first in helicopters, later adding a multi-engine fixed-wing aircraft rating.

His two marriages ended in divorce. He has a teen-age son, Alex, with his first wife, actress Olivia Hussey. His second marriage was to Olympic gold medalist skater Dorothy Hamill. Mensik said he understood that Alex had watched his father take off on Saturday.

Inspired by Air Show

In a 1985 interview with The Times, Martin said he was inspired to become a fighter pilot while watching an air show at Edwards AFB in 1978. Then almost too old to be considered for jet fighter training, he flew to Washington, D.C., and personally pleaded his case with Maj. Gen. John B. Conway, then commanding officer of the Air National Guard.

Martin said he told the general that "as an entertainer, I think any success I have (as a fighter pilot) can only reflect favorably on the Guard."

Jerry Belcher reported from Los Angeles and Louis Sahagun from Riverside.

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