SAN DIEGO — Two Marines who ejected from their crashing fighter jet spent four harrowing hours in the chilly Pacific Ocean, yelling and blowing a whistle in the inky night before a Coast Guard crew spotted them Thursday 85 miles southwest of San Diego.
The men, whose names have not been released, were in serious but stable condition at Naval Medical Center. Details of their injuries were not released, and officials said they had not had the chance to speak to the men yet about what happened.
The Marines were aboard an F/A-18 Hornet flying with another jet when it went down late Wednesday, kicking off a nighttime air-and-sea search by the Navy and U.S. Coast Guard that included dropping a flare to illuminate the area.
They were found together around 2:30 a.m. Thursday, drifting along in their flight suits outfitted with inflatable life vests. A rescue swimmer dropped from a helicopter and plucked them from the ocean.
“They were just basically floating in the water,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Henry G. Dunphy.
Details were not immediately available about what other survival gear the Marines might have had, and what conditions they faced in the water. The jet was not recovered and it was unclear if it would be.
Officials were investigating the cause of the crash, said 1st Lt. Maureen Dooley, a spokeswoman at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
Marines in Southern California have had several crashes during training exercises this year.
Last month, a decorated Marine from western New York was killed during a training exercise when his UH-1Y helicopter went down in a remote section of Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego.
Another Hornet sustained at least $1 million damage when its engine caught fire on March 30 aboard the USS John C. Stennis during a training exercise about 100 miles off the San Diego coast. Eight sailors, a Marine and two civilians were injured. The Navy has said debris in the engine is the suspected cause of that fire.
The Hornet, a twin-engine jet that can dogfight and attack ground targets, is a mainstay of the Navy’s carrier force and has served in recent Middle East combat, but various models have been involved in mishaps in recent years.
In April, two pilots were killed when their F/A-18F Super Hornet crashed during a training flight in a field near the Lemoore naval air station in Central California. The cause of the crash remains under investigation.
The same month, an F/A-18C Hornet caught fire in the air over an aircraft carrier in the Arabian Sea. The pilot was unharmed.
On Dec. 8, 2008, a Hornet with engine problems crashed in the University City area of San Diego, killing four people on the ground and incinerating two homes.
The military disciplined 13 members of the Marines and Navy after the crash, which was blamed on mechanical problems and a string of bad decisions that led the pilot to bypass a potentially safe landing at an air station.
Jablon reported from Los Angeles.