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Fed: Aussie escapes jet crash inferno

09 Dec 2008 8:39 PM

MELBOURNE, Dec 9 AAP - Australian Bill Dusting's life depended on a split second decision whether to turn left or right in San Diego on Monday.

He was running in blind panic from a pilot-less jet fighter aircraft that seemed to have him firmly in its in sights as it plunged to earth.

The expatriate postman from Melbourne, chose to turn right and survived.

Three other people on the ground died in the fiery inferno.

The pilot of the F/A-18D Hornet had ejected safely just before the crash around noon local time at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

Mr Dusting said he was on his postal rounds when he heard the loud pop of the pilot ejecting.

"I heard a bang, bang and I thought someone was shooting at me," he told The Age online.

"I looked up and saw the parachute and then I saw the jet, which was pretty much heading straight at me.

"I'm running and it's coming closer and I thought: 'Damn, it's coming at me like a magnet'.

"But I chose the right direction, running right instead of left.

"When it hit the first (house) it virtually evaporated and then the smoke ... the flames trailed from the house next to it, behind it and the flames trailed across the street."

Mr Dusting said he couldn't believe his luck.

"You've got no idea how close it was. Looking at some of the pictures ... at where the shrapnel was and where I must have been, it must have been a good dive," he said.

"When I saw everything was totally cool I just lost it and got home, laughed, cried and I'm just getting it together now."

Explosions rocked a neighbourhood of half-million-dollar homes, sending flames and plumes of smoke skyward.

The pilot, who ended up hanging by his parachute from a tree in a canyon beneath the neighbourhood, was last reported in stable condition at a naval hospital in San Diego.

The pilot was returning from training on the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln off the San Diego coast when the plane went down.

Authorities said smoke rising from the wreckage was toxic and evacuated about 20 homes. Residents of all but four were allowed back on Monday evening; those four homes were uninhabitable.

There was little sign of the plane in the smoking ruins, but a piece of cockpit landed on the roof of one home.

The shattered neighbourhood is in the University City section of San Diego.