2 Marine Jets Collide at Sea; Pilots Rescued

Times Staff Writer

Two Marine fighter jets collided south of San Clemente Island on Friday, but both pilots ejected and parachuted into the ocean, military officials said.

As the debris from their A4-M Skyhawks floated nearby, the pilots were fished from the sea and flown by helicopter to the aircraft carrier Ranger, where they were reported in good condition, said Lt. Timothy Hoyle, a spokesman at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

The pilots, members of Marine Attack Squadron 311 stationed at El Toro, were identified as Capt. Steven N. Bixler, 27, of Heardon, Va., and Capt. Lionel J. Rotelli Jr., 27 of Staten Island, N.Y.

Officials said the cause of the collision is under investigation.

Refueling Exercise

The collision occurred shortly after 10 a.m. about 66 miles south of San Clemente Island while the jets were engaged in an aerial refueling exercise. Another base spokesperson, Sgt. Annie Larson, said a helicopter dispatched from North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego rescued the pilots and flew them to the carrier, which was conducting maneuvers in the area.


An El Toro-based helicopter was to ferry the pilots from the carrier back to the air station later Friday, Larson said.

Aerospace industry officials estimated the value of the destroyed planes, which are used for air support missions, at approximately $3 million each. There are three attack squadrons in the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at El Toro with 12 aircraft in each squadron, Hoyle said.

The A4-M Skyhawks, developed in the late 1950s and last built in 1979, are being phased out, Hoyle said. Built by Douglas Aircraft, the planes eventually will be replaced with AV-8V Harrier jets, military and aerospace industry officials said.