Miramar’s highway to the danger zone
Published - 03/25/09 - 03:07 PM | 2748 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
During the March 3 Marine F/A-18 crash investigation press conference, Colonel Rupp said, “If the plane had failed just seconds later, it would have made the canyon.” Our concern? If the plane had failed just seconds earlier, it would have fallen on Curie Elementary School or University City High School.

The approach over University City still threatens five south UC schools and their 4,500 students. If this approach to Miramar Runway-06 remains an option, pilots who urgently need it will take it.

A plane with an urgent need is a plane on its way to an accident.

The Marines want us to believe their new yet unannounced procedures ensure an emergency flight will not arrive over University City. They say proper procedures will ensure this aircraft gets “vectored” elsewhere. Of course, these procedures were already in place the day of the crash. The Marines already know this approach shouldn’t be used.

The problem is, pilots will ask for this approach when they are desperate, and pilots have the authority to take their plane virtually anywhere they want to in a declared emergency.

US Airways Capt. Sullenberger recently needed to land a disabled airplane. New York air traffic control offered him three options. As the pilot, he chose a fourth — the Hudson River — because he thought it put the fewest lives in danger.

The pilots who now inhabit Miramar are mostly trainees, not top guns. If they don’t have the experience or maturity required to land in the safest possible place, then we should take the Runway-06 option away from them.

Why save Runway-06 for use mainly by planes in distress?

The UC approach to Runway-06 is seldom used because of safety and noise regulations. It took fewer than 137 flights in 2008, while Miramar totaled 79,000. There is another reason: Land use regulations categorize approaches over schools as so unsafe that if our south side schools fell down tomorrow, current guidelines prohibit them from being rebuilt. It’s too dangerous to land over schools — unless the schools already exist!

So the straight-in approach to Runway-06 is fraught with danger. Yet, realizing we will probably not hear the jackhammering associated with new runways being built anytime soon, the following ideas could ameliorate our concern:

1. Amend or prepare flight publications to state that “straight-in approaches to Runway-06 are not allowed when an aircraft is making an approach in extremis.”

2. Consider whether local air controllers can more forcefully influence pilots (in extremis) not to go there. (After listening to the FAA crash tapes, it’s easy to infer FAA controllers were less convinced than people at Miramar that the plane would make it back to base.)

3. Help pilots better understand rules like “All personnel are expected to exercise prudent judgment in the performance of their mission.” In this case, not to fly over populated areas when they have an available and closer alternative like North Island.

Everyone has a stake in Marines acting responsibly.

Irresponsible behavior seems endemic these days. Yet, we naturally hold Marines to a higher and broader standard because, well, they’re Marines: the elite warriors whose reason for being is to defend us. In this instance, their behavior turns that idea on its head.

As renowned World War II U.S. Navy Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz once said, “Our faith is not primarily in machines of defense but in ourselves.” What happened on Dec. 8 isn’t about something as impersonal and mundane as needing a better repair manual. It’s about widely held attitudes. The 13 culprits indicated in the Marine report forecast a trend.

America needs an effective military. San Diego needs a successful and well-respected home-based military. Protecting our kids is a priority. Our committee wants all three.

Democracy is messy, but it shouldn’t stop anyone from asking questions, making suggestions and monitoring results.

Ron Belanger, LT CMDR U.S. Navy (Ret.)

Dr. Ernie Lippe

Stephanie Jed

Richard P. Ramirez, CMDR U.S. Navy (Ret.)

Bob Stein

Pia-Mantovani-Sud

— Citizens Advocating Safe Aviation is a committee of University City residents established after the December Marine F/A-18 crash. Reach them at info@casa-sd.org.
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