Three killed in plane crash during Navy training exercise off San Clemente Island

An aerial view of the east coast of San Clemente Island
The east coast of San Clemente Island.
(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

Three people aboard a U.S. Navy-contracted aircraft were killed Wednesday when it crashed during a training exercise off San Clemente Island, officials said Friday.

The three men — Eric Tatman, Spencer Geerlings and Shane Garner — were from Georgia and worked for Phoenix Air Group, which owned and operated the Learjet that crashed near the Navy-owned island, according to officials. Tatman was a captain, Geerlings a first officer and Garner a systems specialist, said Phoenix Air, an air charter company based in Cartersville, Ga., that provides service to private groups and government agencies.

“The entire Phoenix Air family grieves over this loss of our friends and fellow employees, and is supporting our fallen colleagues’ families,” the company said in a statement.


Two Learjet aircraft owned and operated by Phoenix Air had been participating in a Navy training exercise Wednesday, the company said in a statement. The jets had been in a military-restricted area as part of a “carefully planned” series of flights related to Navy fleet preparedness, according to the statement.

The U.S. Army says it has grounded aviation units for training after deadly helicopter crashes in Alaska and Kentucky killed 12 in the past month.

April 29, 2023

The Learjet carrying the three men plunged into the Pacific Ocean about 7:55 a.m., said Levi Read, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesperson. The other jet landed safely but immediately began searching the waters, the Coast Guard said.

Officials arrived about 8:55 a.m. and found a debris field a mile southwest of San Clemente Island.

The aircraft had departed from Naval Air Station Point Mugu and lost contact with air traffic controllers about a mile from the island, officials said.

Navy, Air Force and U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel searched a combined 334 square miles near where the plane had crashed, but they did not locate anyone among the wreckage, the Coast Guard announced in a statement.

The Marine Corps named five crew members who were killed after their MV-22B Osprey crashed Wednesday afternoon in the California desert.

June 10, 2022

Search and rescue efforts were halted Thursday.


“Suspending search efforts is one of the hardest decisions to be made, but after aggressively searching the area around San Clemente Island for more than 24 hours using land, air and surface assets with negative results, the decision was made to suspend the active search until further information or developments occur,” Coast Guard Capt. Jim Spitler said in the statement. “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the missing passengers.”

Authorities said the victims’ bodies have not been found. No other Phoenix Air employees or aircraft were involved, the company said.

The National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Department of Defense are investigating the cause of the crash. Phoenix Air said it’s cooperating in the investigation.