updated 12/11/2008 7:46:25 PM ET 2008-12-12T00:46:25

Marine Corps. generals on Thursday defended the decision to direct a jet pilot over a crowded San Diego neighborhood after an engine on his F/A18-D Hornet failed.

It couldn't be predicted that the second engine on the jet also would fail, forcing the pilot to eject and bringing the aircraft down onto a two-story home where it killed four people, the generals said at a closed congressional briefing, according to Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and others who attended.

In the wake of Monday's crash, some have questioned why the jet didn't divert toward a coastal air station instead of continuing over neighborhoods toward Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

Right call at the time
A number of factors made Miramar the right call at the time, according to the briefers, who included Maj. Gen. Robert Schmidle.

They emphasized that double-engine failure is extraordinarily rare, and that the F/A 18-D is designed to be able to operate on one engine. As for why both engines failed, there's no answer to that yet.

"It's an extraordinary coincidence of double engine failure," said Hunter, a San Diego-area congressman who organized the briefing as top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.

"Evidence indicates the pilot followed procedures correctly up to the moment" he ejected, Hunter said.

The jet had taken off for a practice flight from the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln about 50 miles offshore from San Diego. Its right engine failed while it was still over the Pacific, said officials who attended the briefing.

Difficult to divert
At that point, it was a straight shot inland toward Miramar, whereas turning and heading down toward Naval Base Coronado on the coast — as some have suggested would have been a better option — would have required more engine thrust.

That flight path might also have taken the jet over the Hotel del Coronado or the air space of Lindbergh Field airport.

"Altitude, terrain and air speed made it very difficult to divert anywhere else," said Hunter's spokesman Joe Kasper, who also was in the briefing.

Officials also said the pilot ejected at just 2,200 feet — perhaps a last possible moment to save his own life.

However Rep. Susan Davis, D-San Diego, an Armed Services committee member who also attended the briefing, said questions remained.

"Were there some other options, might these have been vetted earlier before the catapulting?" she asked in an interview afterward. "Of course there are concerns."

She said she couldn't second-guess the pilot and hoped the Marine Corps would be as transparent as possible in its investigation.

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