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Ocean Search for 4 Downed Navy Aviators Is Called Off

The rescue effort is suspended indefinitely. The missing crewmen are identified.

October 20, 2002|Anthony McCartney | Special to The Times

POINT SUR, Calif -- The search for four Navy aviators missing after two F/A-18F jets collided Friday morning during a training exercise was called off at sundown Saturday.

The men were identified as weapons system officers Lt. Stephen Nevarez, 31, of New Orleans; Lt. Stephen Benson, 26, of Virginia Beach, Va.; and pilots Lt. Joel Korkowski, 30, of Phoenix; and Lt. Matthew Shubzda, 27, of Dallas.

The crewmen were all members of Strike Fighter Squadron 41, nicknamed the Black Aces.

The search was "suspended indefinitely" and the helicopter and two Coast Guard cutters that had been searching for the pilots were returning to their berths, said Matt Juillerat, a Coast Guard spokesman.

Civilian boats, which aided the search Friday, were not allowed to rejoin the search.

Navy officials are investigating the crash, which took place about 80 miles south of Monterey. The F/A-18F Super Hornet jets were based at Lemoore Naval Air Station, about 30 miles south of Fresno.

All four crewmen flew combat missions over Afghanistan in F-14 Tomcats during Operation Enduring Freedom. When they returned in December 2001, they traded in the Tomcats for the Super Hornets, Navy spokesman Dennis McGrath said.

Lemoore was the first base to receive the Super Hornet planes. The Black Aces Squadron was training so that it could be deployed on the aircraft carrier Nimitz.

It was the first crash involving a $57-million Super Hornet since the Navy began deploying them in 1999.

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