Willits, 22, of Rancho California, was part of a ground crew
observing the departure of the F-4E Phantom fighter. She was
pregnant and is survived by her husband, Calvin Willits, a Marine
stationed at Camp Pendleton.
The truck's other two passengers were
injured and remained hospitalized Friday. First Lt. Mark Gabel, 29,
of La Mesa, was listed in critical condition, while Sr. Master Sgt.
Robert M. Smith, 45, of Corona, was in fair condition.
The plane's pilot was identified as Lt. Col. Donald E. Worden,
46, of Moreno Valley. Worden and the aircraft's weapons systems
officer, Maj. William C. Gallegos, 38, of Carlsbad, ejected and
suffered moderate injuries.
Maj. Michael Ritz, a spokesman for the Air National Guard, said
the plane was in the process of taking off at 1 p.m. Thursday when
it suddenly plummeted to the ground, struck the pickup and burst
into a fiery ball. The plane was armed with 20-millimeter cannon
shells and practice bombs and was headed out for a routine training
flight over the high desert.
Ritz said it is "common and accepted practice" for an "authorized
observation vehicle" to park beside the runway and monitor the
takeoff of tactical fighter aircraft.
"They observe the standards and practices of the pilots and just
watch how the aircraft performs," Ritz said. "It was not at all
unusual" for the vehicle to be in the vicinity, he said.
Ritz said the truck was parked in a grassy area beside the
runway, but exactly how close to the runway he could not say.
Although there are Air Force and Air National Guard guidelines
governing where vehicles may park during takeoffs, Ritz said details
of those guidelines were unavailable Friday.
Whether the truck was too close to the runway is "certainly
something that will be part of the investigation, and I can't
speculate on it," Ritz said.
All of those involved in the accident were members of the Air
National Guard's 163rd Tactical Fighter Group, which is stationed at
March Air Force Base. The last fatal crash involving a member of the
group occurred March 21, 1987, when entertainer Dean Martin's son,
Dean Paul Martin, crashed his F-4C into the side of the San Gorgonio