Admiral, Pilot Found Dead at Crash Site

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The wreckage of an F/A-18 Hornet was discovered Thursday in the mountains of northern New Mexico after a crash in severe weather that killed a San Diego Navy admiral and his pilot, military officials said.

Killed in Wednesday's crash were Rear Adm. James G. Prout III, 51, commander of the Carl Vinson aircraft carrier battle group, and his pilot, Cmdr. Joseph G. Kleefisch, 41, a training squadron commander based at Lemoore Naval Air Station near Fresno, said Chief Petty Officer Pat Neal, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet in San Diego.

The wreckage was not found until 24 hours after the crash because bad weather had grounded search-and-rescue efforts.

The admiral was flying in the two-seat trainer version of the carrier-based all-weather fighter aircraft for two reasons, said Cmdr. Mike Thurwanger, another Navy spokesman.

Prout was headed for St. Louis to meet with officials at McDonnell Douglas, the manufacturer of the F-18, he said. And Prout chose to fly in the F-18 so he could experience its capabilities en route, Thurwanger said.

The F-18 carrying Prout and Kleefisch was flying with another Hornet out of Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego when they encountered thunderstorms, heavy winds and snow over New Mexico.

"They separated to go above the weather, and the [trailing] aircraft with the admiral was not seen after that," Thurwanger said.

Search-and-rescue units from Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, N.M., discovered the wreckage Thursday morning on a 9,700-foot mountain ridge about 45 miles northwest of Santa Fe, a Air Force spokesman said.

Prout was commanding officer of the 32nd Street Naval Station in San Diego from 1989 to 1991 before taking command of a destroyer battle group. He became an admiral in 1993 and served as deputy chief of staff for the commander of the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii.

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