Man Describes How Jet Killed His Family

Don Yoon thought the rain falling on his family's funeral was his wife's tears, being shed for him

By Michelle Wayland and Paul Krueger
|  Tuesday, Dec 13, 2011  |  Updated 3:37 PM PDT
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Images: Family Killed in Plane Crash

Greg High

A courtroom sketch of Don Yoon testifying to a federal judge in a non-jury trial to determine economic and emotional damages.

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A Final, Heartwrenching Goodbye

Dong Yoon, who lost his family in an instant, could not contain his emotion. He sat next to his grief stricken father in law who lost his wife, daughter and two grandchildren.
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Don Yoon cried on the witness stand, as he recalled how it was three years ago today that he buried his wife and two young daughters in a single casket, so they would always be together in heaven and never be lonely.

Young Mi Yoon, 36, Grace, 15 months, Rachel, 2 months and Suk Im Kim, 60, died on December 8, 2008 after one of the engines on a FA-18-D Hornet died as a student Marine pilot headed to MCAS Miramar. The jet destroyed two homes, including the Yoon’s house.  Don Yoon was not home at the time.

On Tuesday, at a non-jury trial, Yoon described how it rained for just a few minutes the day of the funeral, as they lowered the casket into the ground.

He thought that the rain was his dead wife's tears, being shed for him.

Yoon said he took thousands of photos and 50 hours of videotape of his wife and family, because he wanted to capture all of his wife's happy moments. Only a few dozen of those photos survived the explosion and fire, most of them with burned edges and smoke damage. Some of those photos were shown in court on Tuesday.

Yoon's sister, Aesuk Park, testified Tuesday that her brother’s life is like living in jail and that he is still very depressed. Park says she couldn't understand why God let the plane hit the house and she still feels Young Mi Yoon’s presence.

Yoon is suing the U.S. government for economic and emotional damages.

“The United States admitted liability and has now turned to the court for assistance in determining what is just and reasonable compensation under California law,” said U.S. Department of Justice spokesperson Charles Miller.

The Marine Corps said bad decisions and a string of errors led to the deadly accident, which also destroyed a second home and damaged three others.

In March of 2009, a Marine investigation determined that the pilot should have landed at NAS North Island. It also concluded that the Hornet should have been removed from service when mechanics realized it had a fuel problem. Four leaders of the squadron were relieved of duty.

The family's lawyer says the government accepts responsibility for the accident, but won’t pay a reasonable amount for that loss.

"There are two families that could not have been more wronged, and they've offered chicken feed for the lives of their family members. It's just not right,” said Attorney Kevin Boyle.

The federal judge will decide the economic loss and the more subjective emotional loss.

“That's where the numbers in cases like this get big, because how much would you accept for the loss of your wife? It would be a large number. There's probably no number that would do it. But when it happens, there has to be some sort of compensation that values the life, and that's what we're here for,” said Boyle.

Yoon’s father-in-law testified on Monday that he misses his wife most when he eats breakfast alone and at night when he goes to bed alone.

"The U.S. Navy took all my dreams away. I have nothing," said Sanghyun Lee.

Through a translator, he told the federal judge that his pain, sorrow and loneliness are impossible for anyone to understand unless they've experienced a similar loss.

Lee flew to San Diego from Korea to testify. He described how he immediately went to the U.S. embassy to get permission to fly to the U.S. after he learned in a phone call that his wife, daughter and two grandchildren had been killed.

"I lost everything," Lee said about those deaths. "I can't do anything now."

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