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1 Pilot Dies in Collision of 2 Jet Fighters

Other pilot is injured in the midair crash during a Navy training exercise in Central California.

June 27, 2006|Maria La Ganga and Tony Perry | Times Staff Writers

FT. HUNTER LIGGETT, Calif. — Two Navy jet fighters on a training mission collided Monday over this military base 150 miles south of San Francisco, killing one pilot and injuring the other.

The accident occurred about 11:15 a.m. over a remote portion of the sprawling base, said Cmdr. Jack Hanzlik, a Naval Air Forces spokesman. The cause of the collision is under investigation.

Both pilots parachuted from their stricken F/A-18C Hornets. Flaming wreckage started two fires that spanned 500 acres in the base's tinder-dry brush.

Crews from the base fire department, the U.S. Forest Service and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection had brought both blazes under control by late afternoon, a base spokesman said.

Navy officials described the pilots' "air-to-air intercept training" mission as routine.

Both were based at Naval Air Station Lemoore in the Central Valley and were members of Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 125, a unit that trains Navy and Marine pilots in preparation for deploying with aircraft carriers.

Ft. Hunter Liggett -- a rolling, rugged expanse of 165,000 acres -- is a frequent site for aerial training maneuvers by pilots from Lemoore, 76 miles to the east. It is one of the nation's largest Army Reserve command posts and is used primarily for training purposes.

The fatally injured pilot was a Marine, Hanzlik said. Officials declined to release names but said the identity of the pilot who was killed would be disclosed today.

The single-seat Hornet jet fighters can fly as fast as 1,190 mph and at altitudes up to 50,000 feet. They are among the planes most favored by the Navy and the Marines for use in combat.

In January, a training accident took the life of a Lemoore-based Hornet pilot when he crashed in the desert near El Centro.

Another Lemoore pilot was killed in a midair collision over China Lake in July 2005.

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Times staff writer Steve Chawkins contributed to this report.

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