2 dead after pursued Jeep crashes into California air base, hits fighter jet

An F/A-18 Super Hornet assigned to the Strike Fighter Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet, based at Lemoore Naval Air Station.
An F/A-18 Super Hornet assigned to the Strike Fighter Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet, based at Lemoore Naval Air Station. Fresno

Two are dead after a Jeep Cherokee pursued by law enforcement got past a security checkpointat Lemoore Naval Air Station and slammed into an FA-18E fighter jet Wednesday night.

According to authorities at the base and the CHP , the male driver of the SUV and female passenger were killed.

At a news conference Thursday morning, base authorities said the Jeep crashed through an “entry control point.” The two were not affiliated with the base, authorities said.

How the truck got past the checkpoint at the well-guarded main operations area where hangars are located and jet fighters take off and land is under investigation.

“Obviously, that is not something we desire to happen on board the installation,” said Capt. Monty G. Ashliman Jr., the base commander.

NEW STORY: How did an SUV get through Lemoore base security and crash into a warplane?

The pursuit began in Kings County when the California Highway Patrol investigated a vehicle stopped alongside Jackson road near Highway 41 and south of Highway 198,

The vehicle sped away and began to weave, CHP Lt. Dave Knoff said.

“We don’t know why they were running,” Knoff said.

The driver drove east on Jackson until he drove the wrong way on the freeway exit and onto easbound lanes of Highway 198 driving the wrong way.

He drove across the dirt median to the westbound lanes and drove about a mile to the main entrance of the base.

He drove on a road open to the public that leads to a checkpoint at the main operations area about seven miles north of the main entrance.

What happened at the checkpoint remains unclear, but the driver got past it and onto the flightline where he hit a plane, killing himself and his passenger.

The incident began at 11:38 p.m. Wednesday, and ended at 12:02 a.m. Thursday when the vehicle crashed, the CHP said.

The pursuit was called off temporarily when the driver began going against traffic on Highway 198, authorities said, but was picked up later on the same highway.

., the Jeep went through the gate and onto the base. Naval security forces pick up the pursuit while a CHP helicopter tracked the vehicle.

The driver collided with the horizontal stabilizer of an FA-18E fighter jet, authorities said.

The driver was taken to a hospital, where he died. The passenger died at the scene.

In a news briefing early Thursday, Capt. Monty G. Ashliman Jr., commander of the Lemoore base, said just how the vehicle was able to get onto the airfield is a key part of the follow-up investigation that will be done.

A spokeswoman for Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, said the congressman is still collecting information about the incident. Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, was unavailable for comment. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare and the head of the House Intelligence Committee, was also awaiting to be briefed by staff about the incident.

Lemoore is the largest naval installation in the country for carrier-based aircraft, and soon will be getting larger. Currently, 15 active F-18 fighter jet squadrons and one auxiliary squadron are stationed there. One more is on its way in August, and another will move to Lemoore in 2018. A year from now the station also will get some of the first crews to fly the F-35, America’s newest fighter jet. In all, more than 3,000 people – naval aviators and their family members – will be added to the base before 2019.

About 60 percent of the nation’s naval fighter jets will be based at Lemoore Naval Air Station. The Pacific Strike Fighter Wing, as it’s called, is growing due to the Department of Defense’s plans to divert 60 percent of all spending to the Pacific theater.

This story will be updated.

Reporter Michael Doyle of The Bee’s Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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