SAN DIEGO - A military fighter jet preparing to land at a Marine base crashed in a densely populated San Diego neighborhood Monday, killing three people on the ground and destroying two houses, officials said.
The pilot of the F/A-18D Hornet jet ejected safely, according to a statement from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
Mayor Jerry Sanders said two people on the ground were killed. Fire officials said the deaths were at a home where two children, a mother and a grandmother were believed to be inside. Officials did not immediately know who died. Shortly thereafter, police confirmed that a third person on the ground had been killed, adding that a fourth person was missing.
Two houses were destroyed and one damaged, said San Diego City Councilwoman Marti Emerald, who viewed the aftermath.
The plane crashed near Interstate 805 around noon Monday about two miles from the base as it prepared to land, said Ian Gregor, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman. Military officials did not comment on a possible cause of the crash.
A large, busy area of the city was blocked off to traffic, creating a long backup on Interstate 805.
Students at nearby University City High School were kept locked in classrooms, but there was no damage to the campus and no one was injured, said Barbara Prince, a school secretary.
There was little sign of the plane in the smoky ruins, but a piece of cockpit sat on the roof of one home. A parachute lay in a canyon below the neighborhood.
The F-18 Hornet has long been the workhorse of the Navy and Marines since its design in the 1970's, reports CBS News correspondent Sandra Hughes. However, all F-18 models were recently grounded after cracks were found on a hinge in the aircraft. Only a small number were found to have similar cracks, and the rest returned to the air.
The middle-class neighborhood of half-million-dollar homes smelled like a brush fire. Ambulances, fire trucks and police cars choked the streets.
A Navy bomb disposal truck was at the site, and Marines were talking with police. Authorities told observers to leave because the smoke was toxic.