By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times
SAN DIEGO — A federal judge Wednesday ruled that the federal government should pay $17.8 million to the grief-stricken survivors of four family members killed when a Marine Corps jet crashed into their San Diego home in 2008.
U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Miller made his ruling based on three days of testimony from family members and evidence presented by lawyers for the government. The family had initially sought $56 million.
The Marine Corps admitted responsibility for the Dec. 8, 2008, crash of an F/A-18D Hornet that destroyed the Yoon family home in the University City neighborhood.
The wife, mother-in-law and two young daughters of Dong Yun Yoon, 40, a retail store manager, were killed instantly when the plane smashed into the home, setting it on fire. Yoon was at work at the time.
The $17.8 million is to be split between Yoon and his in-laws and is meant to cover the loss of his wife’s income, plus property loss, and loss of companionship.
“Our family is relieved that this part of the process is over, but no sum of money will ever make up for the loss of our loved ones,” according to a statement issued by Yoon through the family’s attorney, Brian Panish. “I still harbor no ill will toward the U.S. Marine Corps and the pilot who did all he could to prevent this tragedy.”
The Marine Corps blamed the crash on a mechanical malfunction in the plane, along with errors made by the pilot and members of the ground squadron who were advising him. The pilot, 1st Lt. Dan Neubauer, ejected and was unhurt; after an investigation he was returned to flying status.
Four squadron officers were relieved of duty and eight other Marines and a sailor were reprimanded.
The ground control personnel had advised the pilot to attempt an emergency landing at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station rather than North Island Naval Air Station, which was closer. The pilot was on a training flight from a carrier when the plane suffered an engine malfunction soon after takeoff.
At the trial, Yoon’s father-in-law, who had traveled to San Diego from Korea, said that the crash “took away all my dreams.”
After the crash, Yoon remained in San Diego but was unable to leave his home for two years except to visit the cemetery. Two days after the crash, Yoon told a news conference that he was not angry at the pilot.
Killed in the crash were Yoon’s wife, Young Mi Lee Yoon, their daughters Grace and Rachel, and his mother-in-law, Suk Im Kim. Yoon emigrated to the U.S. in 1989 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen.