Why didn’t the pilot in Monday’s military jet crash steer to the ocean instead of continuing toward Marine Corps Air Station Miramar?

The possible answer, according to the online magazine Slate: Because he didn’t have control of the plane and had to get out.

In its “Explainer” feature, Slate reports that military pilots can eject in certain cases even if their jets are in danger of killing people on the ground:

It depends on the condition of the aircraft. If the pilot is in control of the plane but determines that a crash is inevitable, he should head to the closest unpopulated area, reduce speed, and then eject. If, however, the pilot has lost control of the plane’s basic functioning and can no longer alter its path (in military parlance, the aircraft is “not flying, but falling”), then he should prioritize escaping before impact.

Slate also provides details on what happened to the pilot as he ejected:

Before pulling the ejection handle on this device, the pilot should have his chin elevated 10 degrees, the back of his head pressed against the headrest, his elbows to his sides, shoulders and back pressed against the seat, and his heels on the floor. Once the chair activates, a motor located beneath the seat fires and launches the pilot vertically, about 400 feet. His parachute opens, and then his seat falls to the ground. From the time the pilot grips the handle to when the parachute unfurls takes about two seconds.

That still doesn’t explain the decision to try to get the plane back to Miramar to begin with, rather than putting it down in the ocean or trying to take it somewhere else — such as North Island Naval Air Station, as The San Diego Union Tribune suggested today.

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