Don Yoon, of South Korean heritage, whose wife and two small children along with their grandmother were killed in the fiery blaze that resulted when a McDonnell Douglas F/A-18D Hornet jet fighter flown by a U.S. Marine Corps pilot crashed into their San Diego, California home on Monday, December 8, 2008 is seeking $56 million in damages from the U.S. government in a case currently being tried before U.S. District Judge Jeffrey T. Miller, as reported on Wednesday, December 14, 2011 by ABC News, KFMB-TV CBS8 San Diego, the San Diego Reader, and multiple other sources.
During testimony by Mr. Yoon on Tuesday, December 13, he told the court that his only hope was to be reunited with his family in death, and explained to Judge Miller, through an interpreter, cultural shades of meaning in their relationship, saying that he hugged his wife, Young Mi, and told her he loved her that last morning before going to work at his sister’s business.
His attorney, Brian Panish, said that the Marine Corps has blamed the accident on multiple mistakes, stressing that “The magnitude of the loss is tremendous.”
The federal government has already acknowledged responsibility, but is disputing how much money should be given to the extended family for the death of two children, their mother and grandmother.
Mr. Panish is asking that Don Yoon be paid $27 million for the emotional and economic loss of his 36-year-old wife, Young Mi Lee Yoon, and their two baby daughters, and is also seeking more than $20 million for the father-in-law for the emotional and economic loss of his wife and his oldest daughter.
The pilot of the warplane and the only crew member on board at the time of the incident, 28-year-old First Lieutenant Dan Neubauer had taken off from the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN-72) 60 miles offshore in the Pacific Ocean at 11:11 a.m. PST, and shortly afterwards shut down his right engine attempting to clear a problem indicated by an oil caution light.
He was first ordered to land at NAS North Island, Navy Base Coronado, using an over water approach clear from residences, but was redirected by superior officers to his home base at MCAS Miramar.
The aircraft’s left engine lost more thrust, before its generator failed, causing the jet to lose electrical power. The aircraft was over University City High School, as the pilot attempted to steer it away from residences, ejecting from the plane at 400 feet altitude, and safely parachuted to the ground, landing in a tree in an area called Rose Canyon.
The jet crashed into a residential area just past the school about two miles from the Miramar’s runway 6L, at Cather Avenue and Huggins Street, between the high school and exit 24 of Interstate 805, destroying two houses and damaging a third, as seen in the attached slide show and video clip which accompany this report.
Mr. Yoon’s family was in one of the destroyed homes, and were the only persons killed. They included Young Mi Lee, 36; her 15-month old baby, Grace; her 2-month-old newborn daughter, Rachel; and her mother, Suk Im Kim, 60, who had recently arrived from South Korea to help care for her daughter’s newborn infant.
A Marine Corps investigation following the accident determined that poor maintenance contributed to the engine malfunction, and that errors by the pilot and decisions by other military personnel were responsible for the plane crashing into the residential area.
Marine commanders apologized for the crash but defended their decision to order Lieutenant Neubauer to land at Miramar instead of North Island, which isn’t surrounded by residences.
They justified the decision based on the fact that double-engine failures are extremely rare. According to Colonel Christopher O’Connor, Miramar’s base commander, “We are not contemplating changing our emergency procedures at this time. We very seldom fly over the area. We take being good neighbors very seriously.”
As a result of the official inquiry, in early 2009 the pilot was temporarily grounded and thirteen other officers and enlisted personnel were relieved of their duties, and in some cases, further disciplined.
Despite criticism, Lieutenant Neubauer was returned to a probationary flight status and allowed to resume training in late April 2009, in a decision made by Lieutenant General George J. Trautman, III, the Deputy Commandant for Aviation.
Mr. Yoon was grief stricken by the loss of his loved ones, but at the time of the accident said that he forgave the pilot, and hoped that the military would learn from this tragedy.
However, an offer for compensation by the government was rejected as being insulting, which resulted in the lawsuit.
The government has apparently determined the potential value of earning for Young Mi Lee Yoon to be one million dollars, but it is not known what amount they have offered the family as settlement for their losses.
According to reports by the Associated Press, the victims cannot seek compensation for grief, suffering or punitive damages for errors made by the military, or the aircraft’s pilot.
It will be up to Federal District Judge Jeffrey Miller to determine a fair and equitable settlement.
Whatever value is placed on the lives of the victims, and the loss of their love and companionship, money can never fully compensate the living for having the fabric of their lives so violently ripped apart.
The McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet is a supersonic, all-weather carrier-capable multirole fighter jet, designed to dogfight and attack ground targets. McDonnell Douglas merged with The Boeing Company in 1997.
The aircraft was first introduced on January 7, 1983, and a total of 1,480 planes in various models have been built at a unit cost ranging from $29 million to $57 million dollars. It has a maximum speed of 1,190 mph, a range of 1,250 miles, a combat radius of 460 miles, a service ceiling of 50,000 feet, and a rate of climb of 50,000 feet/minute.
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