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Mechanic Takes a Joy Ride in $18-Million Marine Jet

Times Staff Writer

A young, record-breaking glider pilot, now an enlisted flight mechanic, was jailed by military authorities Friday after taking an unauthorized joy ride in an $18-million jet fighter based at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station.

According to Marine Corps spokesmen, Howard A. Foote Jr., 21, of Los Alamitos, donned a flight suit at 2 a.m. Friday and climbed aboard an unarmed A4M Skyhawk. He took off from an unlighted runway, flew about 50 miles and returned to the base half an hour later. By the time he returned, Lt. Col. Jerry Shelton said, the lights on the runway had been turned on, but it took Foote five passes to land.

Foote was taken into custody and charged with wrongful appropriation of a government aircraft, Shelton said, a charge that carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a dishonorable discharge. He is being held in the stockade at Camp Pendleton.

Before joining the Marines in 1984, Foote broke several altitude records for glider pilots under the age of 21.

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“I missed my senior prom because I was flying,” Foote said in a 1984 interview before graduating from Los Alamitos High School.

Foote had hoped to be accepted into the Marine Corps’ Enlisted Commissioning Program, with the ultimate goal of going to flight school, said Lt. Tim Hoyle, an El Toro public affairs officer.

However, while flying at 42,500 feet in a glider he suffered an aerial embolism, Hoyle said, similar to the “bends” suffered by divers.

“He found out recently that he probably wouldn’t get accepted for flight school” as a result, Hoyle said.

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According to Shelton, Foote drove up to the plane in a vehicle used to take pilots to their aircraft. He was dressed in a flight suit. A sentry on duty noticed him climbing into the cockpit, Shelton said, but “he couldn’t get his attention or stop him.”

Foote started the aircraft and began taxiing down the runway.

“They knew something was wrong,” Shelton said, since the field was closed at that time. No air traffic controllers were on duty, so the plane was not tracked by radar, nor were any other planes sent up to pursue Foote.

Shelton said it was not necessary to “talk” Foote down. “He got down on his own,” Shelton said.

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