Police chase ends 7 miles inside Naval Air Station Lemoore in California
Jeep Grand Cherokee got past security at base entry point
Officials say it was not a targeted attack on military base
How does an SUV fleeing the police get inside a U.S. Navy base and take out a $60 million top-of-the-line fighter jet?
That’s the question officials at Naval Station Lemoore outside Fresno, California, are trying to figure out after a Jeep Grand Cherokee racing away from a California Highway Patrol traffic stop got 7 miles inside the Navy installation late Wednesday and crashed into the tail section of an F/A-18 Super Hornet.
Navy and California Highway Patrol officials said at a press conference Thursday that two people were in the Jeep – a male driver and female passenger. Both died and their identifications were being withheld pending notification of next of kin, officials said.
The air station’s commander, Capt. Monty Ashliman, said neither of the occupants of the Jeep had a military affiliation and it was not a targeted attack on the base.
U.S. military's fighter fleet
But an investigation was under way on how the vehicle got past armed security at one of the entry points to a base that’s home to 15 F/A-18 squadrons, most of the Navy’s fighter squadrons in the Pacific, and billions of dollars’ worth of aircraft.
All homeland U.S. military bases have been under what the Pentagon calls Force Protection Condition Bravo, which is defined as an “increased and predictable threat of terrorism,” since May 7, 2015, when the military was becoming increasingly wary of homegrown terror threats in the wake of incidents at the time. Bravo is the third-highest threat level on a five-tier scale the Defense Department uses.
Defense officials would not detail how the threat level changed affected security procedures at bases.
“Regardless of procedures we have in place, something went wrong and we had a tragic accident,” Ashliman said. “We had some damage to an aircraft and we had two losses of life so we’ve got to figure out a way to prevent that from happening in the future.”
Ashliman said all exit and entry points to the base were properly manned with base security personnel but did not say how the vehicle still managed to get past both them and barriers designed to prevent such entries.
“Anytime there’s something like this, we’ll certainly take a look at where we can get better. Whether that’s a misstep that we had, whether it’s assets that we need, or a different way of doing business, but we’ll absolutely take serious this incident and figure out how we can get better and prevent it from happening tomorrow,” Ashliman said.
The California Highway Patrol said the incident began when officers came across the vehicle as it was stopped along a roadway and they tried to check to see if there was any problem. The vehicle sped away as officers approached, initiating the chase, patrol Lt. Dave Knoff said.
The Jeep was pursued by both cruisers and a CHP helicopter, officials said. It was the helicopter that landed nearby when the vehicle hit the F/A-18 and officers found the female dead in the vehicle, officials said. The driver later died at a hospital.
Ashliman said the Navy could not yet give an estimate on the damages to the Super Hornet.
“There will be an intense investigation to be sure … it is absolutely safe before it goes flying again,” Ashliman said. He said the base lost no ability to function.