SAN DIEGO — A military fighter jet preparing to land at a Marine base crashed in a densely populated San Diego neighborhood today, killing two people on the ground and destroying two houses, officials said.
The pilot of the F/A-18D Hornet jet ejected safely, according to a statement from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
Mayor Jerry Sanders said two people on the ground were killed. Fire officials said the deaths were at a home where two children, a mother and a grandmother were believed to be inside. Officials did not immediately know who died.
Two houses were destroyed and one damaged, said San Diego City Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who viewed the aftermath.
The plane crashed near Interstate 805 around noon today about two miles from the base as it prepared to land, said Ian Gregor, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman. Military officials did not comment on a possible cause of the crash.
A large, busy area of the city was blocked off to traffic, creating a long backup on Interstate 805.
Students at nearby University City High School were kept locked in classrooms, but there was no damage to the campus and no one was injured, said Barbara Prince, a school secretary.
There was little sign of the plane in the smoky ruins, but a piece of cockpit sat on the roof of one home. A parachute lay in a canyon below the neighborhood.
The middle-class neighborhood of half-million-dollar homes smelled like a brush fire. Ambulances, fire trucks and police cars choked the streets.
A Navy bomb disposal truck was at the site, and Marines were talking with police. Authorities told observers to leave because the smoke was toxic.
Steve Krasner, who lives a few blocks away in the earthquake-prone region, said he first thought the shaking generated by the crash was the long-anticipated “Big One.”
He was in his kitchen when he heard two loud explosions and looked outside, then heard a larger blast.
“The house shook; the ground shook. It was like I was frozen in my place,” Krasner said.
“It was bigger than any earthquake I ever felt,” he said. “The flames were billowing overhead.”
Ben Dishman, 55, said he heard what sounded like “a loud gunshot” followed by an explosion.
“It was quite violent,” said Dishman, resting on his couch after back surgery. “I hear the jets from Miramar all the time. I often worry that one of them will hit one of these homes. It was inevitable. I feel very lucky.”
The F-18 is a supersonic jet used widely in the Navy and Marine Corps and by the Navy’s stunt-flying Blue Angels. An F-18 crashed at Miramar in November 2006, but the pilot ejected safely.
Miramar, well known for its role in the movie “Top Gun,” is home to some 10,000 Marines. It was operated by the Navy until 1996.