Marine General Removed Over Plane Use : Inquiry: Commander is reassigned pending investigation. One flight in question took place shortly before he suspended top aides for misuse of aircraft.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Marine Corps on Wednesday removed the commanding general of the Western air bases from his post here and reassigned him to Virginia amid an investigation into the general's use of base planes for personal purposes.

"This action was deemed necessary to ensure a fair and thorough investigation and to preserve the efficient and orderly functioning of the commands," officials from Marines Corps headquarters said in a prepared statement.

The decision to remove Brig. Gen. Wayne T. Adams, 51, from his post at the Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro came less than a month after The Times detailed five flights taken by Adams on a Marine C-12 Beechcraft that raised questions about his use of base planes.

Named as Adams' temporary replacement was Brig. Gen. Harold W. Blott, assistant commander of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, based at El Toro.

Blott was out of the state Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.

Adams, reached in Washington Wednesday night, declined to discuss any aspect of the case, saying: "I truly have absolutely no comment."

Lt. Col. Ron Stokes, a spokesman for the Marine Corps in Washington, said "basically, Gen. Adams is being assigned as a special assistant" to the commanding general of the Quantico command, Lt. Gen. Earnest T. Cook Jr. "His specific duties have not been determined," Stokes said. The Marine Corps set no time for him to report to his new post.

It was Adams who had suspended two of his top aides in January after allegations centering on their own use of the Beechcraft for golfing jaunts around the country. One of the aides, Col. James E. Sabow, ultimately killed himself as the inspector general's office in Washington was investigating the case.

But The Times investigation found that just three months before disciplining Sabow and Col. Joseph E. Underwood, then chief of staff at El Toro, Adams had ordered a base plane to shuttle him between the El Toro air station and a Marine lodge at Big Bear during a combination military inspection and vacation with his fiancee.

En route to a military convention in Virginia, Adams flew a 552-mile side trip to Florida during a tropical storm in the C-12 turboprop and signed his divorce decree. A 28-year veteran of the Marine Corps, he also met his fiancee in the state of Washington after flying there on a training mission, spent a weekend with a friend and golf partner in Pennsylvania during another training exercise. In 1987, following a family emergency, he ordered a plane to pick him up in Burbank and fly him to the air station at Yuma, Ariz.

Adams has defended these trips as proper, saying that he was getting in flight time at the controls of an aircraft, but military officials have said all of these flights raise questions about the mix of business travel and personal flights, which is strictly prohibited by military guidelines.

The reassignment of a general in the middle of a tour of duty is rare, military officials said. Adams took over as commander of the air stations at El Toro, Tustin, Camp Pendleton and Yuma in September and has said in interviews that he expected to remain there for several more years.

Last week, Adams flew to Washington, where he has been meeting with Marine Corps Inspector General Hollis Davison on the allegations against him.

Members of Davison's investigating team had remained tight-lipped about the progress of their inquiry since last week. But after a day of meetings on the case that one officer there described as "hectic," Marine Corps headquarters emerged Wednesday with its first statement on the case.

Noting allegations that Adams had "misused his authority," the statement said the general had been "reassigned to the Marine Corps Combat Development Command at Quantico, Va., for duty."

Marine Corps officials in the El Toro command and in Washington refused to comment publicly on the significance of the move, but Sally Sabow--widow of the Adams aide who killed himself after his January suspension--was unrestrained after hearing the news.

"I think he should be put out altogether, but that'll come," she said. "I don't think he really belongs in the Marine Corps--he's wrecked the image of this (El Toro) base."

Sabow had been removed from his job as assistant chief of staff amid allegations centering on the use of a base plane to ferry stereo speakers, rugs and other items to Washington state for his son.

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