Three Georgia men die in Phoenix Air jet crash off California coast

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Three men from Georgia died in a jet crash off the California coast during a U.S. Navy training exercise Wednesday, according to Cartersville-based aviation contractor Phoenix Air Group.

The men — Eric Tatman of Marietta, Spencer Geerlings of Newnan and Shane Garner of Taylorsville — were employees of Phoenix Air.

Phoenix Air’s Learjet 36 had the flight crew of three on board when it went down into the water off San Clemente Island in Southern California at about 7:40 a.m. Wednesday morning. San Clemente Island is owned by the Navy and has a military airstrip, training facilities and a live fire range.

The U.S. Coast Guard conducted a search of the ocean where the plane crashed, and debris from the crash was found.

“We’ve been searching all day and all night” using helicopters and boats, said U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Levi Read on Thursday morning.

The Air Force, Navy and U.S. Customs and Border Protection were also involved in the search, which Phoenix Air said continued until the Coast Guard declared Thursday there were no survivors.

The plane took off from Point Mugu, a Navy facility on the mainland, and crashed about one nautical mile from San Clemente Island. It was one of two Phoenix Air Learjets participating in a Navy training exercise, and the other aircraft landed safely. Both aircraft were flying in a military restricted area, according to Phoenix Air.

Phoenix Air is an aviation charter operator and government and military contractor based at the Cartersville-Bartow County Airport northwest of Atlanta. The aviation company gained national attention for a contract with the State Department in 2014 during the Ebola epidemic, when the company flew a patient from Monrovia, Libera to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

The National Transportation Safety Board, Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Department of Defense are investigating the crash, according to Phoenix Air, which said it is fully cooperating in the investigations.