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2 Navy Jets Crash at Sea Near Monterey; 4 Crewmen Missing

Super Hornet fighters based at Lemoore air station were on a training exercise when a fishing boat captain heard a loud boom.

October 19, 2002|Eric Malnic | Times Staff Writer

Two Navy F/A-18F fighter jets crashed into the sea Friday morning while on a routine training mission about 80 miles southwest of Monterey, Calif., officials said.

The Coast Guard, Navy, Air National Guard and a commercial fishing boat searched without success for the four aviators aboard the Super Hornet jets, but there were no signs of survivors or bodies.

The names of the missing crewmen were withheld pending notification of their families. Each plane carries a pilot and a radar interception officer.

The Navy said the cause of the accident had not been determined, but aviation sources said any simultaneous crash of two planes probably involved a collision.

Ray McDonnell, captain of the 40-foot commercial fishing boat White Dove, said he was fishing for albacore when he heard a loud boom.

"It probably was the sound of those two planes hitting each other," he said. "I looked up, and this stuff started raining down all around me."

McDonnell said he notified the Coast Guard and started collecting the floating debris.

"I found a tire and what looked like a piece of a tail," he said. He also found a wallet.

McDonnell said that after picking up everything he could find, he headed back to his dock in Marina, where he was scheduled to rendezvous with Coast Guard officials before dawn today.

The supersonic, twin-engine aircraft that crashed were from Strike Fighter Squadron 41, nicknamed the Black Aces Squadron, based at Lemoore Naval Air Station, about 30 miles south of Fresno.

The crashes occurred at 9:40 a.m., about an hour after the planes took off from Lemoore. The Navy said the planes were among a group of eight F/A-18Fs participating in the training exercise.

The versatile, $57-million jets, flown by the Navy and the Marine Corps, are used for air strikes, air-to-air combat, reconnaissance and close air support.

The planes are equipped with a 20-millimeter cannon and can carry mines, rockets and bombs, but neither of the jets that crashed was armed.

Friday's was the first crash of Super Hornets since the planes, which are advanced versions of earlier F-18 Hornet jets, were introduced about four years ago.

The 109 Super Hornets delivered so far are the most advanced fighters in the Navy arsenal. Capable of speeds up to about 1,250 mph, the planes are equipped with sophisticated electronic targeting systems and stealth features that make them more difficult to track on radar.

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