F-18 crash 8 Dec 2008 - timeline narrative by Ron Belanger
11:57:59 PST: Pilot ejected from his crippled F-18 at 400’ above UC High School. He landed safely near Lippman and Robbins. Source: Command Investigation of the crash by 3d Marine Aircraft Wing, MCAS Miramar.
Less than 10 seconds later, about 11:58:09 PST, the F-18 crashed into homes on Cather Ave And Huggins in UC causing 4 deaths, catastrophic damage and multiple large fires fed by fuel from the aircraft wreckage.
Within seconds, 911 operators started receiving multiple reports with accurate location information. I wasted several minutes trying to get through to 911but never got through. I decided that call was no longer needed and headed out the door to the crash site about 5 houses away, grabbing my camera on the way out.
That camera not only documented the scene but accurately time stamped each photo. When I checked the time on the camera against WWV later that evening is was within a half second of Naval Observatory time.
I took several photos while running to the scene then joined several people who were trying to gain entry into the wreckage of the Yoon home to see if anyone could be helped. We went around to the back, part of which was still standing, to try to gain entry. Unfortunately, the remnants of the interior were fully involved in intense flames. There was nothing we could do.
I returned out front to check the F-18 and noted that both ejection seats had fired, so that reduced danger while it continued to burn.
The nose of the F-18 was a few feet from a camper parked on Huggins near the driveway of a home across from the crash site. Several residents had garden hoses out to keep the camper from catching fire and actually controlled the fire at the nose of the plane and in their front yards. Neighbors across Huggins were doing the same thing until the smoke got too thick to stay.
I shot many photos from that point as I surveyed the scene. Soon police arrived. Then several SDFD firemen in cars, but no fire trucks.
The first SDFD fire truck finally arrived by 12:16:05. People were asking them what took so long and they said they were got stuck in the lunchtime traffic on Genesee.
That first fire truck took about 18 minutes to arrive on scene. A Miramar Crash truck actually beat them to the scene. It drove down a taxiway then through the fence at the nursery on the west side of the airfield. Then it drove down Governor onto Gulstrand then onto Cather Ave arriving just before the SDFD trucks.
At 12:20:12 the first water on the fire was delivered by the MCAS Miramar Crash truck which didn't need a hose connection. Shortly after, the SDFD truck had their hose lines in place and joined the fire fight.
So the traffic jams on Genesee delayed the arrival of fire crews. Had the weather been drier and windier, the fire would likely have spread by the time fire fighters were able to get to the scene.