Search Suspended For Victims Of California Learjet Crash


The U.S. Coast Guard announced today (May 11) it has suspended the search for the three occupants of a Learjet 36A that crashed into the Pacific Ocean yesterday off the coast of San Clemente Island. The as-yet-unidentified victims are presumed dead.

The Learjet, N56PA, was operated by Phoenix Air on contract to the U.S. Navy. The flight departed from Port Hueneme-Point Mugu Naval Air Station near Camarillo, California, west of Los Angeles. No information on the nature of the mission has been released.

First reports of the crash came in to the Coast Guard around 8 a.m. yesterday (May 10). According to news reports, the crew declared an emergency before crashing into the ocean. A second Phoenix Air Learjet was in the area and overflew the crash site, spotting a debris field. The ensuing search was conducted by the Coast Guard, Navy and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It covered approximately 334 square miles. Some debris was recovered, but no bodies were found.

Captain Jim Spitler, sector commander for the U.S. Coast Guard in San Diego, said, “Suspending search efforts is one of the hardest decisions to be made, but after aggressively searching the area around San Clemente Island for more than 24 hours using land, air and surface assets with negative results, the decision was made to suspend the active search until further information or developments occur.”

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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  1. “The flight departed from Port Hueneme-Point Mugu Naval Air Station near San Diego.”

    Actually, NAS Point Mugu is located in Ventura County near Camarillo, north of Malibu on the Pacific Coast Highway. My understanding is that the intended destination was the Naval Auxiliary base on San Clemente island, some 100 miles to the south.

    Regardless, a terrible tragedy. Here’s hoping a cause is discovered.

  2. There is no such agency as US Customs and Border Patrol. CBP stands for Customs and Border Protection. Specifically in this case, Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations.

  3. Phoenix Air does a lot of aggressor ECM training work involving pod-mounted equipment on their hard-point mount modified Lears & Gulfstreams. I believe here in SoCal they also do safety clearing sweeps of the Navy’s offshore ranges using specialized radar equipment, also removable pod mounted.