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Ditched fighter jet might be too deep for recovery

A MK-58 Hawker Hunter prepares to land aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort June 27. The aircraft is visiting Fightertown to participate in training operations with tenant squadrons. The Hawker Hunter is with the Airborne Tactical Advantage Company. (Staff Sgt. Dengrier Baez/U.S. Marine Corps)

A vintage military fighter jet that was ditched at sea off Kewalo Basin on Dec. 12 — startling a pair of parasailing excursion boats nearby — may be in waters too deep to make a recovery practical, a marine salvager said.

Michael Parker, the owner of Parker Marine, said late last week the camouflaged Hawker Hunter, being used in a Hawaii Air National Guard exercise, may have sunk in waters about 300 feet deep on the edge of a seashelf, but possibly glided or settled in pieces into 750 feet of water.

“If it’s out there (in deep water), I’d be surprised if they want to continue to search for it,” Parker said of the Airborne Tactical Advantage Co., which operated the fighter.

The salvage company was expected to bring in a technician to run a tethered remotely-operated vehicle to search for the aircraft on Sunday.

Parker Marine was hired by the Virginia-based company to explore retrieving the fighter as the National Transportation Safety Board continued to look at a cause of the controlled crash.

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Pilot Matt Pothier ejected and ditched the single-seat jet about 2 miles from shore shortly after takeoff from Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

Pothier was aided in the water by X-treme Parasail crew member Mack Ladner, who helped him disentangle himself from his parachute and get aboard a Coast Guard rescue boat.

Pothier, 47, a contracted pilot who works for ATAC, underwent back surgery at the Queen’s Medical Center after the crash.

The aircraft sank rapidly. The state Health Department said the total fuel capacity of the jet was estimated to be between 1,000 and 1,700 gallons, plus an estimated 10 gallons of hydraulic oil and 9.5 pints of turbine oil.

“However, the quantity of any fuel/oil released during the crash is unknown,” the Health Department said in an email. “Any oil released is an environmental concern, but in this incident, it is believed that any fuel/oil spilled evaporated quickly.”

The National Transportation Safety Board said it would look at the pilot’s records and aircraft maintenance. “We want to do an examination of the aircraft once it is recovered,” spokesman Terry Williams said previously.

The ongoing government shutdown likely has delayed the release of a preliminary NTSB report. The full investigation could take a year or longer.

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Pothier said something went wrong with his aircraft and he couldn’t make it back to the airport.

Carri Pothier said on Facebook that her husband “had a problem with his engine during takeoff” and had to eject at sea. Matt Pothier said he tried to steer clear of boats and people.

ATAC was flying two contracted Hawker Hunters in an enemy or “red air” role in the Hawaii Air National Guard’s big Sentry Aloha fighter training exercise.

The British-made jets first flew in 1951. ATAC’s two Oahu-based Hawker Hunters have been participating several times a month with Hawaii Air Guard F-22 Raptors, and make regular appearances in Rim of the Pacific exercises every other year.

The contracted jets cost far less to fly than current-­inventory military aircraft.

According to flight-­tracking websites, the crashed Hawker Hunter was number N323AX, which was manufactured in 1958.

ATAC said it is the world’s largest outsourced civilian, tactical airborne training organization, with a fleet of roughly 90 high-performance tactical fighter aircraft.

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© 2019 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.