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    Jet crash may remain mystery, ex-officer says

    The unexplained crash of two Navy jets killed seven crew members, who were eulogized Wednesday.

    ©Associated Press
    May 16, 2002


    PENSACOLA -- The loss of two Navy training jets and seven crew members last week in the Gulf of Mexico may never be explained, a fellow aviator said Wednesday at a pair of memorial services.

    The T-39 Sabreliners, used for navigation, radar intercept, electronic warfare and other nonpilot training, vanished from radar about 40 miles south of Pensacola on May 8. Neither sent a distress signal.

    "I do not know now, nor do I ever expect to answer or understand why this happened," said retired Navy Capt. Charles Tinker in his eulogy. "I fear it will remain a tragic mystery."

    Tinker is chief pilot for Raytheon Aerospace LLC, which has a contract to fly the T-39s, a military version of a popular business jet.

    Harry White, spokesman for Pensacola Naval Air Station, where the planes were based, said he still could not confirm whether they collided.

    Navy investigators have not decided yet whether to find and bring up wreckage from below 210 feet of water, White said. No remains have been recovered.

    About 800 people filled the base chapel to memorialize the two Raytheon pilots, both Vietnam veterans. They were retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Homer "Gray" Hutchinson III, 57, of Pensacola; and retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Marshall F. "Fritz" Herr Sr., 59, of nearby Pace.

    The service then moved to Barrancas National Cemetery, also on base, where a pair of white and orange T-39s flew over in formation before one broke away left and the other right. An honor guard fired three rifle volleys and played taps.

    There was a second memorial later for all seven crew members at the National Museum of Naval Aviation, also part of the base. About 1,800 mourners, including Florida Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan, attended.

    The other victims included two instructors, Navy Lt. Cmdr. William R. Muscha, 36, of Fargo, N.D.; and Royal Saudi Air Force Maj. Ambarak S. Al-Ghamdi, 32, a native of Albaha, Saudi Arabia, who between them left behind 11 children.

    The remaining crew members were students: Navy Lt. Christopher T. Starkweather, 26, of Fort Atkinson, Wis.; Navy Ensign James T. Logan, 26, of Woodland Hills, Calif.; and Marine 2nd Lt. John N. Wilt, 23, of O'Fallon, Ill.

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