The story is brutally painful. As a husband and father, I can not imagine a more painful thing. Dong Yun Yoon [English name is Don Yoon], 37, was at work at his cafe when he discovered the horrible news of a F/A-18 jet crashing into a residential home – his home. His wife, two young babies, and his mother-in-law who had recently arrived from Korea to help take care of the babies [a Korean custom] all were killed in this tragedy. But in the midst of such deep anguish and pain, Dong Yun Yoon asked people to pray for the surviving pilot of the crashed jet and shared:
“I know he’s one of our treasures, for the country, and I … don’t blame him. I don’t have any hard feelings. I know he did everything he could.”
I listen to the Dong Yun Yoon’s video interview on CNNand couldn’t stop crying. Regardless who’s involved, it’s an utterly painful tragedy but looking at him is like looking at a familiar face. As a Korean immigrant myself, his story his familiar. His voice and broken English is familiar. His comments and words are familiar. The people standing around him all are familiar. In many ways, I feel like he’s my younger brother or cousin. He was doing what many Korean immigrants do – work their tails off to provide for their family. He was working at his coffee shop nearby. Yoon immigrated to the United States in 1989 with his brother and sister while his parents remained in Korea [something all too familiar with many Korean immigrants] all in hopes and pursuit of the great American dream. Dong Yun later became a U.S. citizen.
He married his wife, Young Mi Yoon [a nurse], four years ago and had two children: Grace [15 months] and Rachel [2 months]. They had just moved into this house one month ago.
“My wife — it was God’s blessing that I met her about four years ago, and we got married,” he said quietly. “She’s just such a lovely wife and mother, who always loves me, and (the) babies. I just miss her so much.”
It’s very clear from the interview that Don Yoon is a follower of Christ. His pastor from a local Korean immmigrant Methodist church was right next to him at the interview and a source of comfort and prayer. His family, members of his church and small group, pastor and Don gathered at what used to be his front lawn and prayed before he addressed the media.
“But I believe my wife and two babies and mother-in-law are in heaven with God,” he said. “And I know God is taking care of them.”
And somehow through a faith that transcends human understanding, he managed to extend grace to the pilot:
“Please pray for him not to suffer from this accident,” Yoon said. “I know he’s one of our treasures, for the country, and I … don’t blame him. I don’t have any hard feelings. I know he did everything he could.”
Dong Yun, my dear brother in Christ: You are one of our nation’s treasures as well and a treasure to the Kingdom. In the midst of your deep loss, we extend our hearts to you and lift you and your family up in prayer. May God comfort you and may the world be drawn to Christ through your faith…
Eyes downcast, Don Yoon blinked back tears as he struggled with the memories of his family now gone.
As a pair of Marine Corps jets screamed overhead during a training run, Yoon yesterday visited the charred remains of his University City home for the first time. A day earlier, a crippled F/A-18D Hornet crashed in a fireball that destroyed the Cather Avenue residence.
Yoon, 37, walked unsteadily to the rubble and sobbed into a tissue. He prayed in a circle with a dozen family members and friends in what used to be his front yard, then addressed the news media.
“Nobody expected such a horrible thing to happen, especially right here, right (in) our house,” Yoon said. “I know God is taking care of my (family).”
His wife, Youngmi Lee, 36; their daughters, 2-month-old Rachel and 15-month-old Grace; and his mother-in-law, Seokim Kim, 60, died when the jet crashed into their rented home while trying to reach Miramar Marine Corps Air Station after losing power in both engines.
Two houses were destroyed and three others badly damaged. Yesterday morning, authorities allowed most residents to return to their homes on Cather Avenue and Huggins Street, just west of the airfield.
The pilot, identified by radio station KOGO as Lt. Dan Neubauer of Marine Corps Fighter Attack Training Squadron 101, suffered minor injuries. He was released from the San Diego Naval Medical Center late Monday.
A Marine spokesman said naval and federal investigators are arriving in San Diego to start analyzing what caused the accident.
The Miramar-based 3rd Marine Air Wing also will convene an “aircraft mishap board” to recommend improvements based on lessons learned from the incident, said Maj. Jay Delarosa, a Miramar spokesman.
The military also will launch a separate investigation to try to determine legal responsibility for the crash.
Witnesses saw the plane flying low and slow over La Jolla and University City a few minutes before noon Monday. The pilot ejected as the jet crossed Genesee Avenue and Governor Drive; he landed in a tree behind a house east of University City High School.
The pilot told several people at the scene that he lost an engine during a training flight from the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln off the Southern California coast. He tried to return to Miramar, but lost the second engine shortly before the accident.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Alpine, said yesterday that a preliminary investigation showed the crash probably was caused by power failure and not structural problems with the plane.
The pilot followed established procedures, said Steve Diamond of Tierrasanta, a retired naval aviator who saw the crash and spoke with Neubauer moments afterward.
He said all military pilots train for a single-engine failure, although it’s a rare event. It’s not considered a catastrophic failure and wouldn’t normally prompt an aviator to ditch a $40 million aircraft like the F/A-18D.
“If a pilot has any control over the airplane, he’s going to stay with it,” Diamond said.
Several experienced pilots said that if there’s a nearby landing field ashore, an inexperienced pilot wouldn’t attempt a dangerous, engine-out landing on the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier.
“If you lost one engine, you’d pick the nearest airport where it was safe for you to land,” said retired Maj. Gen. Bob Butcher of the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation, who flew Marine jets from 1959 to 1992. “The guy was flying the most direct route he could to get the plane on the ground.”
What’s unclear is why the pilot chose to land at Miramar, which involves an approach over heavily populated La Jolla and University City, instead of North Island Naval Air Station, which could be approached entirely over water. Military officials have not said where the Abraham Lincoln was operating.
While a single engine failure is uncommon, a double failure is almost unheard of.
“There’s a high degree of confidence the plane will return safely,” Diamond said.
Others, though, think the pilot’s risk-taking wasn’t worth it.
“The problem is, he doesn’t know why he lost the engine,” said Ted Haas of La Jolla, a lawyer and civilian aviator who used to live in the same block where the plane crashed. “It just doesn’t make any sense for any pilot to risk life and limb.”
The F/A-18D missed University City High School by a quarter-mile. In 1979, a defense researcher warned in a report against building the school or houses too close to the end of the Miramar runway. Many residents fought construction of the school for 17 years because of safety and environmental issues, but the school’s backers prevailed, and University City High opened in 1981.
“A substantial threat of a catastrophic accident exists in the community west of Miramar,” said Jerry Kopecek, the study’s author, who was then a vice president for the Navy consultant Science Applications Inc. The company is now known as SAIC.
Kopecek, now retired, said he looked at half a century of data showing that most crashes occurred within two miles of the end of a runway.
The predictions of long-ago consultants and activists meant little to Don Yoon yesterday as he grieved for his family.
He had left Monday morning for his job at the family-owned AJ Wholesale Mart in San Ysidro. He heard about the accident early in the afternoon, but couldn’t get close to the demolished house.
So he spent the rest of the afternoon with his older brother, Kevin, at a nearby police station, watching the news unfold on television with disbelief.
Authorities told Don Yoon about finding his wife’s body, his mother-in-law’s body and Rachel’s body. He wanted to go to his home and search for Grace, who liked to shout “Mom!” and “Milk!”
Authorities found her remains early yesterday afternoon.
“My brother loved his children,” Kevin Yoon said. “He loved going home after work to play with them.”
Don Yoon emigrated from South Korea in 1989 and eventually became a U.S. citizen. He met his wife in Korea, and the couple married four years ago – about the same time Lee immigrated to the United States.
Lee, a registered nurse in her homeland, took up the same profession in San Diego and worked at a hospice-care facility.
Yoon and Lee moved into the house on Cather Avenue about a month ago, happy to have more space for their growing family after living in an apartment. Kim joined them in the summer to help her pregnant daughter. She had planned to return home next week, Kevin Yoon said.
At the news conference, Yoon said he’s not angry with the pilot whose errant jet caused the carnage.
“I don’t have any hard feelings,” Yoon said. “I know he did everything he could.”
He said his father-in-law will arrive today from South Korea.
“I don’t know what to tell him,” Yoon said. “I don’t know how he’ll ever forgive me.”