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Search Resumes for Missing Child in SD Jet Crash

Investigators on Tuesday resumed the search for a child missing in the wreckage of a residential area where a military fighter jet crashed and burned, killing three people.

The F/A-18D Hornet crashed into a street Monday about two miles from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar as the pilot was returning from a training flight.

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Three people - a mother, her baby and a grandmother - were killed in one house and officials said a fourth person, believed to be a small child, was in the house and had not been found. The search the child had been suspended during the night.

The pilot ejected before the crash and ended up suspended by his parachute in a tree. He was being treated at a hospital.

One other home was destroyed and three were damaged in the neighborhood of half-million-dollar houses.

The San Diego County Medical Examiner said it had tentatively identified each of the victims and was in contact with family members for confirmation. No names were released.

"It happened in a split second - boom, boom, boom," said Alain Blanc, 64, a retired photographer who lives next to the destroyed homes and was working on his computer. "The whole house started shaking and rocking."

Blanc heard what he thought were exploding propane tanks. Two neighbors said a pickup truck caught fire after running over flaming debris and the driver yelled that his gas tank was full as he fled the vehicle.

Terri Scheidt, who was wrapping Christmas presents, heard an "unbelievably loud" sound, followed by explosions. She ran around the corner and saw two homes engulfed in flames.

Someone led an older woman from one of the homes, "completely in shock," Scheidt said.

Military aircraft frequently streak over the neighborhood, two miles from the base, but residents said the imperiled aircraft was flying extremely low.

No initial finding of the cause of the crash was given.

The pilot, who ended up hanging by his parachute from a tree in a canyon beneath the neighborhood, was in stable condition at a Navy hospital, said 1st Lt. Katheryn Putnam, a Miramar spokeswoman. He had been returning from training on the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln off the coast, she said.

Investigators will review information from a flight data recorder. There was no indication the pilot was using alcohol or drugs, Putnam said.

Dawn Lyons spoke to the pilot just after he landed in the tree.

"I saw an incredibly composed person," Lyons said. "He didn't have any scrapes or bruises. He was very lucid."

There was little sign of the plane in the smoking ruins, but a piece of cockpit sat on the roof of one home, and a charred jet engine lay on the street. Authorities said the smoke wreckage was toxic and about 20 homes were evacuated.

A Marine Corps bomb disposal truck was brought to the neighborhood in the University City section of San Diego, although police assured residents there was no ordnance aboard the jet.

The Navy recently inspected hundreds of F/A-18 Hornets, built by Boeing Co., after discovering "fatigue cracks" on more than a dozen of them. The inspections looked for cracks in a hinge that connects the aileron - a flap that helps stabilize the jet in flight - to the wing.

The Navy announced last month it had grounded 10 of the $57 million fighters and placed flight restrictions on 20 more until repairs could be made.

The supersonic jet is widely used by the Marine Corps and Navy and by the stunt-flying Blue Angels. An F-18 crashed at Miramar - the setting for the movie "Top Gun" - in November 2006, and that pilot also ejected safely.

 

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