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Fighter jet crash unnerves San Diego neighborhood

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- The Marines renewed its promise to thoroughly investigate why a fighter jet crashed into a home and killed four people, but its pledge failed to appease some residents in the crowded neighborhood where the F/A-18D Hornet burst into flames.

Col. Christopher O'Connor, the commanding officer of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, told about 300 residents at a community meeting Thursday night that the military would "get to the bottom of this horrible tragedy" but he gave no timeline.

He said the military constantly reviews procedures but wasn't more specific when residents pressed him to explain why a hobbled aircraft would be permitted to fly over homes.

The pilot reported the twin-engine plane was having trouble over the ocean and was given a "direct route" to Miramar, O'Connor said. The FA18, he said, "is designed (to) and flies safely on a single engine."

The pilot, who safely ejected, was "within seconds" of crashing the jet into an uninhabited canyon, O'Connor said. "He waited 'til the absolute last minute before it would have killed him as well."

The colonel fielded questions for about an hour, three days after the crash killed a mother, her two young daughters and the woman's mother. Marine generals said at a closed congressional briefing Thursday that it couldn't be predicted that the second engine would also fail and defended the decision to fly over homes to Miramar.

"It does nobody any good for everybody to put themselves and try to armchair-quarterback what the pilot should have done," O'Connor told residents in a sometimes-testy exchange. "I guarantee he applied his experience and knowledge and everything else he had to make the best decision possible."

The colonel's answers rang hollow to some in the standing-room only crowd at University City High School, where many students witnessed the fiery crash. One resident, Louis Rodolico, asked why the Marines "sent a doomed machine over a highly populated zone."

"This is unacceptable and I would like to see a little more outrage, please," Rodolico said, appealing to the crowd. He drew sustained applause.

Others called the Marines good neighbors and warned against a rush to judgment.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders said he was confident the "Marine Corps will be on this immediately .... I'm sure we're going to be learning many lessons from this that can be put to use."

One resident said the Marines appeared to trivialize the crash by calling it a "mishap." Another said the Marines should have halted flights the day after the crash; the widower whose family perished in the crash, Dong Yun Yoon, battled jet noise as he spoke emotionally before television cameras Tuesday near the rubble where his home once stood.

O'Connor responded that "mishap" was a military term. The Marine Corps Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101, which included the downed F/A-18, was grounded for 36 hours but other jets flew, he said.

Some have questioned why the jet didn't divert toward Naval Air Station North Island on San Diego Bay, which would have kept it over water.

O'Connor told reporters the investigation would address why the jet didn't land there. He said he didn't know where the closest airstrip was when the first engine failed.

A number of factors made Miramar the right call at the time, according to the military officials who briefed lawmakers Thursday, including Maj. Gen. Robert Schmidle.

They emphasized that double-engine failure is extraordinarily rare.

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