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Sun, May 14, 2023

Three Presumed Dead in U.S. Navy Training Accident

USCG Suspends Search for Downed Learjet

The three-man crew of a U.S. Navy-contracted Learjet was lost on Wednesday, 10 May 2023 when their aircraft went down near San Clemente Island—a U.S. Navy-owned landmass off San Diego’s Pacific shore.

The decedents, PIC Eric Tatman, SIC Spencer Geerlings, and system specialist Shane Garner, were in the employ of Phoenix Air—a Cartersville, Georgia-based Part 135 operator providing worldwide air ambulance services and high-priority air cargo services—including the transport of explosives and similarly-dangerous goods. Phoenix Air’s military contracting division is a leading provider of contracted airborne electronic warfare and weapons training/testing services for clients the likes of the U.S. Department of Defense, NATO, and numerous foreign militaries and governments.

In a post-incident statement, Phoenix Air asserted: "The entire Phoenix Air family grieves over this loss of our friends and fellow employees, and is supporting our fallen colleagues’ families.”

The lost aircraft—the series and model designation of which remain unknown—was one of two Phoenix Air-owned-and-operated Learjets taking part in a U.S. Navy training exercise. Both aircraft had been operating within the W-291E Warning Area as part of what Phoenix Air characterized as a "carefully planned" series of flights related to Naval fleet preparedness.

U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Levi Read reported the accident aircraft plunged into the Pacific Ocean at approximately 07:55 PDT. The second Phoenix Air Learjet landed safely but returned immediately to flight for purpose of searching for the downed company jet.

Officials arrived on-scene at 08:55 PDT and observed a debris-field one-mile south of San Clemente Island.

The accident aircraft departed Naval Air Station Point Mugu (NTD) and lost contact with air traffic control approximately one-mile from the island.

In a statement, the U.S. Coast Guard disclosed that U.S. Navy, Air Force and Customs and Border Protection personnel—despite searching 334 square-miles of sea surrounding the point at which the Phoenix Air Learjet went down—had located neither survivors nor bodies.

Search and rescue efforts were suspended on Thursday, 11 May.

U.S. Coast Guard Captain Jim Spitler set forth in a statement: “Suspending search efforts is one of the hardest decisions to be made, but after aggressively searching the area around San Clemente Island for more than 24-hours using land, air, and surface assets with negative results, the decision was made to suspend the active search until further information or developments occur. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the missing passengers.”

The accident remains under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the U.S. Department of Defense. Phoenix Air is cooperating with investigators.

FMI: www.phoenixair.com

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