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Jet crash death toll increases

December 9, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
The death toll from the crash of a fighter jet climbed to four on Tuesday after investigators found the body of a child in the ruins of a San Diego home, the coroner's office said. After hours of searching the rubble of what used to be a two-story home authorities made a sad discovery.

The body of 15-month-old Grace Yoon was found in the home where three other family members died, Fire Department spokesman Maurice Luque said.

The body is the fourth to be recovered from the debris after an F/A-18D Hornet jet slammed into the San Diego neighborhood Monday.

"I thought they weren't home, that's the sad part. I didn't hear anyone crying or shouting. I thought they weren't home," said witness, Pia Mantovani.

The family's church pastor, Rev. Kevin Lee of the Korean United Methodist Church identified the others killed as Young Mi Yoon, 36; her 2-month-old daughter, Rachel; and her mother, Suk Im Kim, who had recently arrived from South Korea to help care for her daughter's newborn.

Their bodies were found Monday.

Young Mi Yoon's husband Dong Yun Yoon was at work when it happened. Church members tried to comfort him.

"There's just nothing we can say to make him feel better. We just hugged and cried and cried for a long time," said Rev. Kevin Lee.

Military officials continue to examine the jet engine and other pieces of wreckage.

Authorities say the pilot was returning from a training mission on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. He was trying to land at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, after one of the engines failed.

Authorities say the pilot was able to eject and parachute to safety right before the jet crashed.

Officials say the fiery blaze destroyed two homes and damaged three others.

As residents return home they can only look at what's left and think about the tragedy next door.

The family had recently moved into the neighborhood. Rev. Lee says as Dong Yoon grieves, he remains grateful for the time he had with his family.

"Nobody expected such a horrible thing to happen, especially right here at our house. But I believe that my wife, two babies and my mother-in-law are in heaven with God. I know that God is taking care of them," said Dong Yun Yoon.

"He enjoyed to the fullest being with them, but God has taken them to a better place. His love for his wife and children lives beyond this tragedy," said Rev. Lee.

The community is in shock after the crash that many said were comparable to a train derailment or tractor-trailers colliding. They said it was nothing short of pandemonium on Monday afternoon as the jet careened into homes.

"When I walked outside, it was like a war zone," said Mantovani.

"The fire had consumed both houses to where I couldn't even get near the house, and then I went by the high school, and I saw one of the pilots, and he was just dazed and confused," said Donny James, a witness.

About 20 homes were evacuated after the crash as a precaution because the wreckage spewed toxic fumes for hours. As of Monday night, six homes were still deemed unsafe, which is most likely due to structural integrity.

Investigators said they still are unsure what caused the jet's engines to fail, but said there was no indication the pilot was using alcohol or drugs.

The Navy recently inspected hundreds of F/A-18 Hornets built by Boeing Co. after discovering "fatigue cracks" on more than a dozen aircraft. The Navy announced last month it had grounded 10 of the jets and placed flight restrictions on another 20 until repairs could be made.

The inspectors checked the Hornets for cracks in a hinge that connects the aileron - flaps that help stabilize the jet in flight - to the wing.

An F-18, a supersonic jet used widely in the Marine Corps and Navy and by the stunt-flying Blue Angels, costs about $57 million. An F-18 crashed at Miramar - known as the setting for the movie "Top Gun" - in November 2006, and that pilot also ejected safely.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Eyewitness News Reporters Eileen Frere and Lisa Hernandez contributed to this story.


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