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Training crash claims female combat pilot

One of the Navy's first female combat pilots was killed in a training accident off Southern California on Tuesday, the Navy said Wednesday.

The pilot, Lt. Kara Hultgreen, 29, of San Antonio, Texas, crashed into the sea as she was preparing to land her F-14 Tomcat on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. The F-14's radar-intercept officer, Lt. Matthew Klemish, ejected and was rescued by Navy helicopters.

Navy officials said the cause of the accident, which occurred at 3 p.m. in fair weather, was under investigation.

Hultgreen, who completed F-14 pilot training in July, was part of the first class of women allowed to fly Navy fighter jets in combat missions.

In April 1993, Defense Secretary Les Aspin lifted the last restrictions on female pilots flying combat missions and serving aboard warships.

The Abraham Lincoln became the first warship based on the West Coast to integrate women into the ship's crew and the carrier air wing. It is scheduled to leave for a six-month tour in the western Pacific and Asia next spring.

Hultgreen was one of two women among the 14 pilots in Fighter Squadron 213, an F-14 unit based at Miramar Naval Air Station outside San Diego.

Before being tapped to fly the F-14, the fighter plane that Tom Cruise made famous in the movie Top Gun, Hultgreen was based at Key West Naval Air Station, where she flew EA-6A jets that help train Navy ship crews to detect enemy aircraft or missiles.

But Hultgreen, who graduated from the University of Texas with a degree in aerospace engineering, had even loftier goals.

"I want to be an astronaut," she said in an interview with the Miami Herald last year. "Most of the astronauts are Navy jet test pilots first. If you're not given the same opportunities, you can't compete on the same level."

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