WASHINGTON -- One of the Navy's first female combat pilots was killed Tuesday when the 32-ton F-14 fighter she was flying plunged into the ocean on a landing approach to an aircraft carrier off the coast of Southern California.
Lt. Kara S. Hultgreen, 29, a native of San Antonio and a member of Fighter Squadron 213 -- the Blacklions -- died while trying to land on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, the Navy announced yesterday.
The plane's radar intercept officer, Lt. Matthew P. Klemish, 26, of Sergeant Bluff, Iowa, was saved by helicopter rescue teams that were already in the air when the jet crashed at 3:01 p.m. He suffered minor injuries. Lieutenant Hultgreen's body was not recovered.
Lieutenant Hultgreen and Lt. Carey Lohrenz were among the Navy's first female combat fighter pilots when they qualified in July to fly the $38 million F-14 off the deck of an aircraft carrier, a Navy spokesman said. They were in the same squadron and were close friends.
The two were among a handful of female aviators in the armed forces who were cleared for combat after the government lifted the combat exclusion restriction for female pilots in 1991.
"She just thought of herself as a lucky woman, that she had got to do what she wanted to, which was to fly combat jets, those wonderful planes," Lieutenant Hultgreen's mother, Sally Spears, said from her home in San Antonio yesterday.
"She didn't like to be singled out as the woman F-14 pilot," Ms. Spears said. "She was just happy that the law was changed and she was able to do what she was able to."
Ms. Spears said her daughter believed that the F-14 was "the most beautiful airplane that they made, and it is. She loved it."
Lieutenant Hultgreen had at first wanted to be an astronaut, her mother said, but then decided it would be more fun to fly jets. She majored in aerospace engineering in college and enlisted in Navy officers school before graduation.
After being commissioned as an officer, Lieutenant Hultgreen trained on the Navy's A-6 bomber and had logged more than 1,000 hours piloting that aircraft and its radar-jamming counterpart, the EA-6B.
The Navy said Lieutenant Hultgreen had logged 217 hours in the front, or pilot, seat of the F-14 Tomcat. She had made more than 50 day and night "traps," as the hair-raising carrier landings are called. And, along with her fellow pilots, she was continually honing her skills.
"She was a seasoned aviator who was picked to transition into the F-14," said Doug Sayers, the public affairs spokesman for the Naval Air Station at Miramar, Calif., where Lieutenant Hultgreen was based. "She came to us with a great deal of experience."
A Navy spokesman at the Pentagon, Lt. David Albritton, said: "The Navy sends its deepest condolences out to the family. We (( definitely feel for . . . [them] in their time of loss. However, the risks associated with flying naval aircraft are known to all naval aviators and to everybody in the Navy every day."