Navy Pilot Dies After Jet Flips at Miramar

Times Staff Writer

A Navy pilot died Tuesday after his FA-18 fighter skidded for 5,000 feet as it landed on a slick runway at Miramar Naval Air Station. The plane then flipped, trapping the pilot upside-down in his aircraft.

Lt. John Semcken, public affairs spokesman at Miramar, identified the pilot as Capt. Henry M. Kleemann, 42. Kleemann, who was married and had four children, was one of two Navy pilots assigned to the aircraft carrier Nimitz who shot down two Libyan fighters in the Gulf of Sirte on Aug. 19, 1981, after the Libyans fired at the U.S. planes.

Kleemann was stationed at Point Mugu Naval Air Station near Oxnard, Semcken said.

He said the pilot was landing on the 12,000-foot runway at 9:10 a.m., after flying in from Point Mugu, when the accident occurred. After the plane had rolled about 5,000 feet down the runway, it flipped over. A Miramar crash crew worked feverishly for about 30 minutes to free the strapped-in pilot from the cockpit. The crew eventually brought in a crane to lift the front of the jet fighter high enough to pull him out. Despite spilling its fuel, the plane did not burn.

The injured pilot was airlifted by Life Flight helicopter to UC San Diego Medical Center, where he died at 10:25 a.m. Officials would not divulge the cause of death.

Semcken said Kleemann was flying to Miramar on a routine training mission. A Navy spokesman said that the FA-18 squadron at Point Mugu evaluates the weapons systems that are part of the sophisticated fighter's hardware.

The $22-million FA-18 Hornet is built by McDonnell Douglas. Miramar officials said the plane did not deploy a drag chute when it landed, and it appeared that Kleemann was relying solely on the brakes.

Navy officials are also trying to determine why the plane's canopy landed several feet away from the aircraft, and if Kleemann could have been trying to eject before the craft rolled over.

"All of this is just speculation at this point. We have no real clue as to what could have caused the crash. It's under investigation," Semcken said. He said the plane has computerized landing and takeoff systems and a computerized anti-skidding system.

"We're looking at the landing gear and plane's wheels to see what went wrong. The investigators are looking to see if the anti-skidding system failed."

The crash was the second at Miramar this year. On March 12, a Naval Reserve F-8 Crusader photo reconnaissance plane crashed after takeoff, landing in the parking lot of a Sorrento Valley high-tech industrial complex. The pilot escaped unharmed, and no one on the ground was injured.

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