Eugene Cho

dong yun yoon: the man who lost his family in the san diego jet crash

Dong Yun Yoon cries while talking about losing his wife, two daughters, and mother-in law after an F/A-18D fighter jet crashed into his house in the University City neighborhood of San Diego, California December 9, 2008. The victims were identified as Dong Yun Yoon's wife Young M. Yoon, and their daughters 15-month-old Grace and 12-month-old Rachel. Young Yoon's mother, Suk Kim, who was visiting from South Korea also perished in the crash. The family had moved to the neighborhood a month ago. Dong Yun Yoon was at work at the time of the accident.

Part II:  Why aren’ t we drawn to Don Yun Yoon?

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.”

Dong Yun Yoon (L) and his wife Young M. Yoon (R) pose during ...


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.”

This photo provided by The Korean United Methodist Church of ...

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…

Other news sources include:  San Diego Union Tribune  Korea Times | LA Times | CNN Article | Here’s an article from the SD Tribune:

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.”

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51 Responses

  1. Daniel says:

    This is so tragic and sad. I can’t imagine what he must be going through right now.

  2. Mark K. says:

    Thanks for posting this P. Eugene…

  3. janowen says:

    It made me cry too. I can’t imagine. Would my faith survive and would I remain a witness? Praying for this man today.

  4. Phillip Gibb says:

    I do not know if I could handle such a thing happening to my family, I would be so angry at God. But Dong Yun Yoon is stronger. I pray that Jesus gives him more strength in this time and that he finds peace and somehow; joy. Man alive.

  5. deneenwhite says:

    That man is an example to all of us. Thanks for this post.

  6. That is an authentic example of the work of God’s grace…. in the midst of unfathomable loss and pain.

  7. Mindy Neibor says:

    This amazing man understands that life is short, that we are mortal, and that God rarely intervenes in human and natural events. The few instances in history where He has intervened are called “miracles”—rare events that radically defy the natural and normal course of events.

    God did not actively hurt this man’s family nor actively rescue them. While God’s hands-off approach to the normal course of everyday events may leave us feeling vulnerable, this ought to make us more aware of our own mortality and drive us to seek the hope of eternal life.

    Life is short and can flee any of us in a moment, even by accident. Turn to God and have hope in a life that can never die, as Jesus’ resurrection life encourages us.

  8. jason says:

    what strength of faith…wonderful example of faith and grace….

  9. Donna says:

    Eugene, Mr. Yoon is indeed a treasure. May God uphold & dtrengthen him now & in the days ahead. My heart is breaking for him at such a horrible loss, and I am humbled by his faith.

  10. Debbie says:

    My thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Yoon. There are are no words adequate, but I am praying that God will cover him with peace at this time, and surround him with His presence.

  11. gar says:

    I don’t even know what I would do in the same circumstances.

    What a man of faith and grace… thanks for posting this article, PE.

  12. j. says:

    devastating. the awesome, terrible sovereignty of God. if you hadn’t posted about this, i don’t think i’d have heard about it at all. thank you. it makes me come to God in a new way. my heart & brokenhearted prayers are with yoon.

  13. Sarah says:

    Just heart breaking. I hadn’t heard much of this (we live in Canada) but this is heart wrenching. Thank you for posting it…we will pray for him and his father-in-law.

    Even so, come Lord Jesus!

  14. Lori says:

    Brother Yoon will survive, but it will be a long road. God will walk that road with him. I don’t know how he got through that interview.

    Father, keep this precious man in your care and close to your heart. Give him strength for each step he takes each day. May he turn to you in all his sorrow, and may he find your comfort every step of the way. Surround him with brothers and sisters in the Lord who will hold him, listen to him, weep with him, and pray with him. In Jesus name, Amen.

  15. SK says:

    God would be so pleased with Mr. Yoon’s faith! My prayers go out to him, his family and the pilot. Through this sad and tragic event Mr. Yoon has given our God the ultimate glory that He is with his wife and children and all of us. To know for sure that he will one day be reunited with his wife and children brings me a smile in the midst of my tears.

  16. Donna says:

    Has any one heard of a memorial fund for this man? I jus cannot believe this. I am just crying like a baby. This is just so tragic….

  17. […] As Eugene Cho writes, this news would be horrific and tragic no matter to whom it happened. As a husband and father myself, I cannot even begin to imagine the shock and terror of losing my family in the middle of what should have been an ordinary day.  However, there’s something deeply personal about the story of the Yoon family for our Korean American family.  When we hear their story, we understand why the grandmother made the long journey across an ocean to care for her newborn granddaughter.  When I hear Dong Yun’s voice, I understand the inflection and the heart of what he’s saying. In the faces of those surrounding him, I can see the pastors I have known and loved.  I see the families weeping alongside them, literally crying out to God in prayer. […]

  18. Dadofiandi says:

    I cannot imagine what he is going through. I hope that in the days, weeks, and years to come he has support around him, people who will listen to him and care for him.

  19. Dennis says:

    Hi, Pastor Eugene, do you know of an address that I could send money to support him? Thanks.

  20. Jim Chen says:

    He’s like Job. He’s definitely living out the values in 1 Peter! May God comfort and bless this brother!

  21. eugenecho says:

    @dennis: i haven’t found anything yet. i have contacted a few of my pastor friends in san diego to let me know if they have any additional info.

    the church [in san diego] is hosting a prayer service tonight at 7pm but no info on a memorial fund on their church website: [in korean]

    and the website of the English Ministry:

  22. Junghwa says:

    P.E. what a crying mess i am during the break time between two finals.
    my prayers to him and his family.
    a painfully beautiful accident.
    you’re good at putting to words your thoughts and emotions btw.

    the church is haivng a prayer service tonight at 7pm? where?

  23. eugenecho says:

    @junghwa: sorry for the confusion.

    the church = don yoon’s church in san diego is hosting a prayer meeting at 7pm.

  24. chad m says:

    holy crap. may God give peace to this man. abundant peace.

  25. […] os escombros de sua casa, Yoon Dong-yun disse que perdoava o piloto do F/A-18 que desabou sobre a edificação, matando três gerações de […]

  26. iy says:

    the press conference was pretty difficult to watch.
    so sad when he asked for help knowing what to do — “i don’t know how to feel, i don’t know what’s the right to think about. but i know there are many people who have experienced more terrible things. please tell me how to do it, i don’t know what to do.”

    how could he?

    crazy. sad.

  27. […] Story, Bright Light Eugene Cho at beauty and depravity tells of a man who lost his wife, 2 small children and mother-in-law due to a plane crash in San […]

  28. CP says:

    I could not have faulted him in the slightest if he had responded only with angry, foaming vitriol directed at anyone and everyone. Not after what he’s been through. I probably would’ve reacted with pure rage.

    But to read something like this… it’s deeply moving. Truly an example to us all… God see him through this.

  29. Cheryl B, Centerville Ohio says:

    I and my family send our sincere and heartfelt condolences. It is an unspeakable tragedy, a loss, and painful grief for you & your remaining family. Please know our family prays for yours and shares your grief in what ever small way we can. May God comfort you in your terrible loss. Your strength & belief in your Lord will hopefully guide you in the sad and difficult days to come.
    Sincerely, Cheryl & family

  30. […] some of you know, I posted the story yesterday about the unfathomable and tragic story of Dong Yun Yoon and his family  [English name: Don Yoon] who were killed when an F/A-18 jet crashed into his home.  Don, 37, was […]

  31. Dale says:

    I found the address where you guys can send a card or donations. This was found from Michelle Malkim’s website.

    Dong Yun Yoon
    c/o Rev. Kevin Lee
    Korean United Methodist Church
    3520 Mount Acadia Blvd
    San Diego, CA 92111

    Pelase send him a card or monetary help if you can.
    Thanks and may god bless Dong Yun Yoon and look after his lost family members.

  32. […] Eugene C Cho shares Yoon’s story on his blog. And you can watch video on CNN. […]

  33. Samuel Lee says:

    It is an extreme tragedy to Mr. Dong and I believe his response should have gotten a lot more attention than what it received.

    I felt in some ways it was a different type of prejudice that America might have developed over the last several decades. Where I wonder if America’s specific ignorance to the Asian-American culture/identity have turned to indifference. Where we (I am a Korean-American / citizen) have become a “3rd race”.

    It could be partially due to America’s subconscious response to Asian-Americans (especially Koreans) culture of exclusivity. who knows…

    However, I do feel part of the reason why Mr. Dong’s tragedy and response to it is not getting the attention it deserves is because of the prejudice and indifference in the heart of some Americans.
    To me… it is a quite, yet real discrimination, void of emotions.

  34. Samuel Lee says:

    Sorry! meant to comment in the other post. Sorry!
    ignore my prior comment.

  35. […] Cho posted details of a story that has not received too much press even though the story is both crazy and tragic. Many of us […]

  36. […] Cho want to know why this tragic yet redemptive story has not gotten more press. All I can say is Dong Yun Yoon seems to be an amazing person who walks […]

  37. Janice Spann says:

    Thank you for posting this story – I cannot imagine I would have the grace of Mr. Yoon to be so charitable. Yes, his story made me cry. I have donated funds to enable you to send Mr. Yoon a paper card letting him know he is not alone in a caring America. (Although this website is mine, I do not earn from it, as I am on SSDI.*) Thank you, and, God Bless.
    1. Log in Username: YUN
    Password: YUN
    2. Turn on Audio
    3. Enter your Return Address
    4. Choose a card
    5. Send to: Mr. Dong Yun Yoon
    Korean United Methodist Church
    3520 Mount Acadia Blvd
    San Diego, CA 92111-4531

    *earnings limited to $670.00

  38. eugenecho says:

    from the church website:

    Tragedy in Our Community

    On Monday December 8, 2008 Dong Yun Yoon (member of the Korean United Methodist Church of San Diego) lost four of his family members in the recent F/A-18D jet crash in San Diego.

    We will dearly miss his wife Young Mi, daughter Grace (15 month), Rachel (1 month), and Young Mi’s mother Mrs. Suk Im Kim.

    A Trust Fund has now been created and your donations for the Yoon family can be directed to:

    Dong Yoon # 200-717-333, SD Hanmi Bank

    If you are unable to find a Hanmi Bank in your area, you can mail your donations to the Korean United Methodist Church at

    3520 Mt. Acadia Blvd. San Diego, CA 92111

    Place: Glen Abbey Memorial Park & Mortuary
    Address: 3838 Bonita Rd. Bonita, CA 91902

    Friday December 12 ~ Public viewing 5 – 9 PM (Little Lodge)
    Saturday December 13 ~ Burial Service 1 PM (Chapel of Roses)

    Thank You

  39. […] Dong Yun Yoon lost everything when jet crashed into his home and he still calls the pilot a treasure. Incredibly story. […]

  40. […] TheWayofaPilgrim Here’s some stuff I came across this week (it was a busy week)… 1. Dong Yun Yoon: the man who lost his family in the San Diego jet crash 2. Herod: the Hitler of Christmas 3. […]

  41. Hector Gutierrez says:


  42. Hector Gutierrez says:


  43. Scott says:

    Thank you for finding God’s mercy from his face and speech
    Mr. Yoon is the perfect example how to live in this world as
    a God’s son and daughter. Get a grp Mr Yoon
    We also pray for you God is always with you
    Thank you for your wonderful behavior

  44. Jolene says:

    I wonder if during times of war, the media wants to downplay any sort of faults that may be assigned to the military (the marine corps, in this instance) even though the victim didn’t blame them either.

    Thanks for posting this – I’m new to this blog but I visited Quest last weekend for the first time and I really enjoyed my time there.

  45. Jazmine says:

    The miracle of this situation is that this man has forgiven. The easiest thing for people to do is place the blame on someone else. Yes, God could have saved his family, but He didn’t. God is STILL GOD. GOD IS SO EVIDENT in this man’s life that God is glorified in this tragedy. Miracles are things that occure agianst “natural law” and forgiveness of this caliber is not natural. It is a fruit of the spirit. It is a Miracle.
    I will continue to pray that God reveals more of His face to our bro. in Christ. be sure to do the same C=

  46. Sounds says:

    Just to let everyone know, there is charity opportunity for Dong Yun Yoon through the Beverly Hills Hi-Def Film Festival on Tuesday night, December 30th at 7:30pm at the Fine Arts Theater, 8556 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills. The movie Sounds will premiere at this time and the producers and other contributors are giving $1 per movie goer to Mr. Yoon. Tickets to watch the movie are around $10 each. To get more information you can go to their website at Have a happy new years!

  47. Christine says:

    i blame the pilot. that pilot should have stuck with his plane and tried to steer it away from homes instead of being selfish and letting it kill an innocent family.

  48. RaiulBaztepo says:

    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

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In our culture, we can be so obsessed with the "spectacular" or "glamorous." The Church often engagws in thia language and paradigm...but what if God has called many of us to small, ordinary things?

Will we still be faithful?
Will we still go about such things with great love and joy?

I recently came across this picture taken by @mattylew, one of our church staff...and I started tearing up: This is my mother; in her 70s; with realities of some disabilities that make it difficult for her to stand up and sit down...but here she is on her knees and prostate in prayer. She doesn't have any social media accounts, barely knows how to use her smartphone, doesn't have a platform, hasn't written a book, doesn't have any titles in our church, isn't listed as a leader or an expert or a consultant or a guru. But she simply seeks to do her best - by God's grace - to be faithful to God. She prays for hours every day inteceding for our family, our church, and the larger world.

Even if we're not noticed or celebrated or elevated...let's be faithful. Our greatest calling as followers of Christ is to be faithful. Not spectacular. Not glamorous. Not popular. Not relevant. And not even successful in the eyes of the world.

Be faithful. Amen. #notetoself (and maybe helpful for someone else)

At times, we have to say ‘NO’ to good things to say ‘YES’ to the most important things.

We can't do it all.
Pray and choose wisely.
Then invest deeply. May our compassion not just be limited to the West or to those that look like us. Lifting up the people of Iraq, Iran, and Kurdistan in prayer after the 7.3 earthquake - including the many new friends I met on a recent trip to Iraq.

The death toll rises to over 400 and over 7,000 injured in multiple cities and hundreds of villages along the Western border with Iraq.

Lord, in your mercy... We are reminded again and again...that we are Resurrection People living in a Dark Friday world.

It's been a tough, emotional, and painful week - especially as we lament the horrible tragedy of the church shootings at Sutherland Springs. In the midst of this lament, I've been carried by the hope, beauty, and promise of our baptisms last Sunday and the raw and honest testimonies of God's mercy, love, and grace.

Indeed, God is not yet done. May we take heart for Christ has overcome the world. "Without genuine relationships with the poor, we rob them of their dignity and they become mere projects. And God did not intend for anyone to become our projects." Grateful this quote from my book, Overrated, is resonating with so many folks - individuals and  NGOs. / design by @preemptivelove .
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on ourselves 
even as we seek 
to change the world. 
To be about the latter 
without the former 
is the great temptation 
of our times.

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