Jet lost control during takeoff in deadly Yuma mishap

By Joshua Stewart, Staff writer

A training aircraft that hit a vehicle and killed the Marine inside at an Arizona military air station on Wednesday lost control during takeoff, according a Yuma International Airport official.

Gladys Wiggins, the airport’s director, said a T-59 Hawk operated by a government contractor lost control during departure around 11:45 a.m., and struck a vehicle occupied by a Marine safety observer. The Marine, who was overseeing a military crew that was setting up equipment near the runway, was taken to Yuma Regional Medical Center and was pronounced dead upon arrival.

The name of the Marine has not yet been released pending notification of the service member’s next of kin.

The pilot and passenger inside the T-59 exited the aircraft after it came to a stop, Wiggins said. Pictures of the scene show a burned aircraft with an open, but intact, canopy with seats inside the cockpit. The primary cause of the deadly mishap has not been determined.

Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board arrived in Yuma on Wednesday afternoon. They are examining the accident scene and interviewing aviators and others, Wiggins said.

“That included records, reviews and inspections of the paperwork for the fuel and the aircraft, and pilot interviews,” she said.

The FAA did not return phone or email requests for comment.

Air Force 1st Lt. Katrina Cheesman, a spokeswoman for Air Force Special Tactics, said the T-59 belongs to Air USA, a contractor that provides close air support for a joint terminal attack control course for service members. Air Force Special Tactics participates in the contract with Air USA.

Air USA did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company’s website states it is “licensed, certified and actively purchases, possesses and releases ordnance, day and night, for the purposes of [military] training.”

All ordnance-handling and employment procedures are in line with Air Force and/or Navy procedures, the site states. And all Air USA ordnance is handled by current or retired U.S. military ordnancemen.

The company’s pilots are current or retired military fighter weapons school graduates or combat veterans, according to the site. They fly four different types of jet aircraft, including the MIG-29, the Alpha Jet, and the L-59 Super Albatros, in addition to the T-59.

The Marine Corps and Yuma International Airport have shared the airfield since 1956, and military jets operate alongside commercial and private flights.

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