F/A-18 Hornet Pilot Pronounced Dead In Crash At MCAS Miramar

An F/A-18 Hornet crashed in the vicinity of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, in the northern part of San Diego, California, last night. As of 8:00 a.m. local time (PST), the base confirmed to The War Zone this morning that a search and rescue operation was ongoing.

Although the fighter crashed at 11:54 p.m. local last night, the incident was not announced by the Marine Corps until earlier this morning, when the base issued a statement. Even though the location of the crash is also known, the Marine Corps has said that search and rescue efforts were still ongoing, a good eight hours after the incident.

Citing a defense official, a report from USNI News states that the jet involved was a two-seat F/A-18D model, as flown by the Marine Corps, although that source did not say if one or two crew were onboard at the time. Miramar also declined to confirm to The War Zone what version of the Hornet or how many crew were involved.

An aerial view of the flight line on Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, San Diego, California, Feb. 22, 2021. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl . Krysten Houk

According to the statement from the Marine Corps, the Hornet in question was not assigned to the resident 3rd Marine Air Wing (MAW) but was operating out of MCAS Miramar when it came down. The crash site is on government property east of the air station, with “no indications of damage to property on the ground.” NBC Los Angeles said that local police were first on the scene to respond to the incident before MCAS Miramar took over.

USNI News adds that the crash location is near the I-15 highway east of the base, and that, as of this morning, fire and rescue crews were on the scene.

A satellite view of MCAS Miramar, with the I-15 highway located east of the base. Google Earth

In its initial statement, MCAS Miramar said that an investigation had begun, but there were no other details provided about the nature of the incident.

The crash was apparently first reported by the CBS 8 San Diego news channel, which said that a helicopter was involved in the search and rescue effort and that the jet had come down in a “remote area of the base.” The same report also mentioned a single pilot, with a subsequent update from the same outlet stating that the single pilot had ejected.

The Marine Corps is in the process of replacing many of its ‘legacy’ Hornets — which include F/A-18A++, F/A-18C, and F/A-18D variants — with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The U.S. Navy has meanwhile retired its last ‘legacy’ Hornets. Still, around 100 of these older jets will serve on till at least 2030 in upgraded form, including with new AESA radars, electronic warfare self-protection enhancements, and a new set of long-range weapons, including the AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM), Harpoon Block II+, and AGM-154C-1 Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW).

As of this time, the Marine Corps fleet included six active Hornet squadrons and one reserve Hornet squadron. Most Marine F/A-18s are assigned to Marine Air Group (MAG) 31 at MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina, with additional squadrons assigned to MAG-11 at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, and MAG-41 at Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas. There is also still a single training unit, VMFAT-101, the last Fleet Replacement Squadron for the ‘legacy Hornet’ in the Department of the Navy, which is based at Miramar.

A student pilot with VMFAT-101, MAG-11, 3rd MAW, performs pre-flight checks aboard an F/A- 18C Hornet at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, May 9, 2023. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Gadiel Zaragoza

Marine Hornets no longer go aboard U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, with the last such deployment being made with Carrier Air Wing 17 in February 2021, as you can read about here. The jets are also no longer a presence in the Central Command area of operations, although they do still provide combat capability to the Indo-Pacific region.

We have reached out to the Marine Corps for more information on this crash and will update this story once more details are available.

Update, 10:30 a.m., PST: Luis Martinez, the Senior Pentagon Reporter at ABC News, tweeted within the last few minutes that the pilot of the crashed Hornet was sadly killed in the accident. This news was confirmed to ABC News by unnamed U.S. defense officials.

Unknown at this stage is whether previous reports that suggested the pilot had ejected were true, and that, for some reason, the ejection was unsuccessful.

12:00 p.m., PST: The 2nd MAW has now confirmed that the single pilot aboard the two-seat F/A-18D was killed in the crash at MCAS Miramar.

The Hornet belonged to Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224. VMFA(AW)-224 is based at MCAS Beaufort, South Carolina, and falls under the command of MAG-31.

Search and rescue crews recovered the body of the pilot, whose identity will not be released until 24 hours after all next-of-kin notifications have been completed.

Contact the author: thomas@thedrive.com