Image: Crashed jet.
KPNX12-TV via AP
The wreckage of the Marine Harrier jet that crashed Wednesday in Yuma, Ariz., is seen between several homes.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 6/16/2005 3:50:13 PM ET 2005-06-16T19:50:13

About 300 Marine base workers walked shoulder to shoulder through a southern Arizona neighborhood Thursday in search of any stray ammunition from the crash of a bomb-laden Harrier jet.

As each section was cleared, officials planned to let residents return to the last 52 homes still evacuated after Wednesday’s crash in Yuma, said James Stover, the city’s public affairs manager.

Hundreds more evacuees had been allowed to go home late Wednesday, hours after the jet plunged into a backyard while trying to land at Marine Corps Air Station-Yuma, about 185 miles southwest of Phoenix.

The pilot ejected safely before the crash, and one civilian on the ground had a minor cut. Two homes had structural damage, Marine Cpl. Michael Nease said.

Tying up 'loose ends'
The plane’s four 500-pound bombs were safely removed. They have devices to prevent detonation if they are accidentally dropped from the aircraft or hit the ground in a crash, Nease said.

The plane was also carrying 300 rounds of 25-millimeter ammunition, none of which exploded.

Stover said most of the ammunition had been accounted for. “This is again to make sure there are no loose ends,” he said.

The plane crashed and burst into flames about a mile from the base.

“I was just sitting here. It was a low soaring sound. It got real low, it was like a rumbling and I heard an explosion,” said Marita Jane Wichman, who lives about four houses away from the crash site.

Marine investigator were trying to determine what caused the crash, Nease said.

Troubled history
The AV-8B Harrier, a light attack aircraft that can take off and land like a helicopter, was the fourth such jet from the Yuma air station to crash in recent years. A Harrier crashed in Yuma on Dec. 2 and two crashed in December 2003. In each case, the pilots ejected safely.

The Harrier jets have had a troubled 30-year history and are due to be replaced within a decade by the Joint Strike Fighter.

A 2004 Los Angeles Times review found that at least 45 Marines had died in 148 non-combat Harrier accidents during the three decades the jet has been in service.

At a press conference Wednesday, Yuma base spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Butler noted that it was unusual for a pilot to return from a training mission with his payload, and said something must have happened so the Harrier could not drop its bombs during the practice run.

"In fact, that happened to me a few weeks ago," Butler said, according to the Yuma Sun newspaper. "I couldn't drop the ordnance, so I wasn't going to fly around with the ordnance, so I returned to the base."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Jet crash

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