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Navy jets crash over Pacific Ocean, four still missing

By Matthew Fordahl
Saturday October 19, 2002

POINT SUR — Two unarmed Super Hornet fighter jets crashed over the Pacific Ocean about 80 miles southwest of Monterey during routine training Friday morning. The Coast Guard searched for four missing members of the Black Aces squadron from Lemoore Naval Air Station. 

The Navy said the two F/A-18-F jets crashed at about 9:40 a.m. while engaged in an aerial combat exercise with six other fighter jets. The two F-18s were not carrying any weapons, the Navy said. 

Navy spokesman Cmdr. William Fenick said he did not know if the planes collided. It was slightly overcast at the time of the crash, according to a Coast Guard spokesman. 

A Coast Guard plane and a commercial fishing vessel were at the accident scene searching for the four missing aviators, but the Coast Guard said at 2 p.m. there had been no sign of survivors or any sightings of bodies. 

Officials refused to release the identities of the missing pilots, all of whom were experienced aviators who had flown F-14 Tomcats over Afghanistan, said Lemoore spokesman Dennis McGrath. Their families had been notified they’re missing. 

“You always have hope you’re going to find them,” McGrath said. “We’re waiting on pins and needles.” 

Coast Guard spokeswoman Veronica Bandrowsky said the fishing vessel White Dove, registered in San Francisco, found a debris field one mile in diameter. The 8-ton wooden hulled boat remained at the site Friday afternoon, aiding in the search, she said. 

The Air National Guard dispatched a helicopter from Moffett Field with two rescue swimmers aboard and the Navy had two ships — the USS Valley Forge, a cruiser, and the USS Howard, a guided missile destroyer — participating in the search. 

F/A-18F jets, which seat two aviators, are designed for traditional strike operations and close air support. F/A class fighter jets commonly are equipped with Vulcan 20mm cannon and can carry external payloads of general purpose bombs, mines and rockets. 

It was the first crash involving a Super Hornet since the Navy launched the fighter jets. 

About 75 Super Hornets are based at Lemoore, the only base where they’re being flown, McGrath said. Each Super Hornet costs $57 million, weighs 33 tons and has a combat flight range of 1,275 nautical miles, according to a Navy Web site. 

Lemoore Naval Air Station is located near Fresno.