FAA delays release of Marine jet crash tape

Deferring to the military, the Federal Aviation Administration will not release the recording for the crash of a Marine Corps airplane that killed four until Feb. 27 when the Corp finishes their investigation. News agencies are seeking the recording to determine why the crippled jet flew over a densely populated area rather than to an alternate landing site over the ocean. -DB

San Diego Union-Tribune
Jan. 29, 2009
By Steve Liewer

SAN DIEGO – FAA officials have granted the military’s request to delay the release of radio communications between its air traffic controllers and the Marine pilot whose jet crashed into a University City neighborhood last month.

The Federal Aviation Administration will wait until Feb. 27 to make public the recording, which is expected to shed light on what happened before the F/A-18 Hornet killed four people and damaged six homes.

“Our legal staff reviewed the Marine Corps’ request and determined there was legal justification for temporarily delaying the release of the audio,” said Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman.

Marine lawyers argued that public airing of the recording would jeopardize their investigations into the Dec. 8 crash. An aide to Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-Lakeside, said the service is finishing its preliminary investigation and expects to issue a report in February.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt they’ll be released eventually,” said Maj. Eric Dent, a spokesman at Marine Corps headquarters. “We asked that it be delayed so (investigators) can consider it.”

FAA officials had signaled they would release the 16-minute recording yesterday to comply with Freedom of Information Act requests filed by The San Diego Union-Tribune and The Associated Press.

The recording could help answer why the student pilot decided to fly his crippled jet over several miles of densely populated neighborhoods near Miramar Marine Corps Air Station instead of diverting to North Island Naval Air Station, which offers an over-water approach.

Shortly before noon, the aircraft lost an engine on takeoff from the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln during an offshore training exercise. The second engine sputtered and failed as the F/A-18 flew over University City.

The pilot, Lt. Dan Neubauer, ejected safely seconds before the jet slammed into Cather Avenue, then plowed through the home of Don Yoon, a 37-year-old businessman, and left it a fiery ruin.

Yoon was at work at the time. But his wife, Youngmi Lee, 36; his two young daughters, Grace and Rachel; and his mother-in-law, Seokim Kim, all died. In the days afterward, Yoon’s grace and his public forgiveness of Neubauer touched people around the world, with hundreds attending a prayer service and the funeral for his family.

Marine officials said they will make public the findings of their legal investigation into the crash. But Maj. Jay Delarosa, a Miramar spokesman, said it’s unclear when that will happen.
“It’s not complete,” he said. “We’re still committed to doing the job right.”

Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition in San Rafael, said the Marine Corps appears to be within its rights to request a delay if the investigation is still ongoing.

“If it were to turn out that there was no real risk of jeopardizing the Marine investigation, delay of disclosure would raise serious legal questions,” Scheer said. “Any delay whose real purpose is to enable the Marine Corps to manipulate media coverage of the results of any investigation would be highly inappropriate.”

Staff writer Rick Rogers contributed to this report.