The engineer who warned three decades ago of the “extreme” risk of catastrophic jet crashes in University City reiterated today that homes don’t belong near the Miramar military air station.
“I stand by those conclusions,” said Jerry Kopecek of his findings in a report that created a stir in 1979. “No homes should be built near the departure or arrival end of the runway.”
According to Kopacek, the area of the largest risk encompasses a 30-degree radius that extends two miles from the departure and arrival ends of Marine Corp Air Station Miramar’s runway. The airbase is especially dangerous because military pilots engage in training exercises, he said.
“The statistics show that most airplane crashes occur in that sector,” said Kopecek, 82.
Monday’s military jet crash killed four people and destroyed homes in the University City neighborhood.
Kopecek’s 1976 report, written at the request of a community activist, made the news nearly 30 years ago when it became public as school officials considered a proposal to build University City High School.
He wrote that there was a 1-in-390 chance each year that a plane would hit the high school property or, for that matter, any other 78-acre bit of land in the zone of highest danger.
At the time, Kopecek, who describes himself as a national expert on risk assessment, worked for Scientific Applications Inc., a military contractor later known as Science Applications International Corporation, or SAIC. The company immediately disowned the report after it became public.
Company officials were worried that the report would “impede” its contracts with the Navy, which ran the airbase at the time, Kopecek said.
(For its part, the Navy may have played hardball. In the wake of a newspaper article about the Kopecek’s study, someone leaked a story to The San Diego Union about how the FBI and Navy had investigated the contractor.)
However, the contractor later issued an internal report that confirmed Kopecek’s findings, Kopecek said.
As for Monday’s crash, Kopecek said he was saddened to hear about it. “That’s a terrible thing.”