FELICITY —- An AV-8B Harrier fighter jet carrying live ordnance crashed Wednesday near here, making this at least the seventh Harrier to crash in eastern Imperial County since 1996.
The pilot involved in Wednesday’s crash ejected safely, a Marine Corps Air Station Yuma official said.
All of the seven Harrier jets to crash in the county flew out of MCAS Yuma, according to Imperial Valley Press archives. Six of those crashes were confirmed between 1996 and 2003.
It’s still unknown what caused Wednesday afternoon’s crash nor the extent of the pilot’s injuries, MCAS Yuma spokeswoman Capt. Staci Reidinger said. However, she said the injuries were thought to be minor.
After ejecting from the plane, the Marine Corps pilot called from his cell phone to alert of his location, Reidinger said.
A search and rescue team found the pilot, who was then transferred to Yuma Regional Medical Center between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., she said. The crash occurred about 3:30 p.m.
“We’re very glad the pilot was able to eject safely, and he made a quick split decision to put the plane down in an unpopulated area,” Reidinger said.
The aircraft was flying with another Harrier to the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range for training, Reidinger said, and was about 15 miles northwest of MCAS Yuma when it crashed.
The aircraft is part of a visiting unit from east coast Air Station MCAS Cherry Point in North Carolina.
A 2-mile radius was cordoned off as base personnel made sure the bombs on the fighter jet were disarmed and transported, Reidinger said.
The AV-8B Harrier fighter jet is in the process of being phased out and replaced with a joint strike fighter between now and 2025, she said.
The Harrier has been used since the late 1970s and early 1980s. Reidinger said its replacement isn’t driven by safety concerns but rather the aircraft has “naturally reached its life cycle.”
There were six AV-8B Harrier crashes in Imperial County between 1996 and 2003.
By 2004, 45 Marines had died in 148 noncombat accidents within the jet’s 32-year history and more than a third of the Harrier’s fleet was destroyed in crashes, according to a Los Angeles Times article.
During a 2004 committee hearing on rising military aviation accidents, former Imperial County Congressman U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter Sr. pledged to create a task force to investigate recent accidents. Information as to whether that task force was created was not immediately available.
A Harrier with live ammunition also crashed into a Yuma neighborhood and set a home on fire in 2005. More than 1,300 people had to be evacuated from the neighborhood then due to the aircraft’s bombs, none of which exploded.
Built by McDonnell Douglas and British Aerospace, the Harrier is a single-engine strike fighter used to escort helicopters, conduct close-combat air support and fly offensive missions against enemy ground-to-air defenses.
Capable of vertical takeoff and landing, the plane may be armed with air-to-air missiles, a cannon and bombs.
Staff Writer Alejandro Davila contributed information to this story.
Dec. 8, 2003
AV-8BII Harrier crashed at 10:30 a.m. in the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range in eastern Imperial County. The pilot safely ejected.
Dec. 3, 2003
AV-8BII Harrier crashed at 8 p.m. during a training flight in a farm field six miles southwest of Yuma. The aircraft’s pilot declared an emergency due to control problems, and the pilot ejected as he or she approached for a landing.
April 15, 2000
AV-8B Harrier crashed about 3:30 p.m. during a training flight that was part of a weapons and tactics instructors’ course in the Chocolate Mountain Gunnery Range. The pilot was taken to Yuma Regional Medical Center, where he was treated for an eye and shoulder injury.
April 22, 1998
AV-8B Harrier crashed about 1:35 p.m. during a routine training flight from Yuma to El Centro between five to 10 miles east of Holtville. The pilot, Lt. Col. Peter Yount, died, though he had ejected from the jet.
Oct. 7, 1996
AV-8B Harrier crashed about 6 p.m. during a training mission along with three other aircrafts as part of the weapons and tactics instructors’ course eight to 10 miles north of Niland in the Chocolate Mountain Gunnery Range. The pilot died.
Feb. 29, 1996
AV-8B Harrier crashed about 1:45 p.m. as it and another jet traveled from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma to the Chocolate Mountain Aerial Gunnery Range on the northwest slope of Black Mountain east of Highway 78 and halfway between Palo Verde and Winterhaven. The pilot ejected and was aided by U.S. Border Patrol agents.