Local News

Cousin of dead pilot says Marine followed dream

Posted December 30, 2008 7:47 p.m. EST
Updated December 31, 2008 5:39 p.m. EST

— The cousin of a Marine pilot killed in the crash of his AV-8B Harrier attack jet crash said the young captain had wanted to be a pilot since he was a child and enlisted in the Marines to repay a debt he felt to his adopted country.

The Marine Corps said Capt. Alberto N. Bencosme died when the single-seat fighter went down at approximately 12:30 p.m. Monday near Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point. He had been awarded his captain's bars on Dec. 1.

Bencosme was a member of Marine Attack Training Squadron 203, based at Cherry Point.

The cause of the crash remained under investigation Wednesday. Officials said a cockpit warning light had shown the Harrier's canopy, the clear shell over the cockpit, might not be completely latched, and Bencosme was returning to have that checked. The Marines did not link the warning light to the crash, however.

Bencosme, whose age the Marine Corps would not disclose, was 27, according to his cousin, who spoke with WNCT-TV in Greenville.

He was born in the Dominican Republic, moved to the U.S. as a youth and joined the service out of gratitude to his adopted country, the cousin, H.L. Peralta, told WNCT-TV. He always wanted to fly, Peralta said.

He enlisted in the Marines in November 1997 in Miami, Fla., and was commissioned as an officer in November 2004, the Corps said.

Monday's crash came in the same month that another Marine jet crashed in a San Diego neighborhood near its base, killing four people on the ground.

Cherry Point is home to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, and the jet was part of a training squadron, where pilots come to hone their skills with the Harrier.

Another Harrier crashed in February near the base in Carteret County, but the pilot was not injured. (View a list of recent crashes involving Cherry Point Harriers.)

A two-seat training model crashed in May in Arizona, but the pilots ejected safely.

The Marine Corps began acquiring the British-designed Harriers in 1971 and has implemented various revisions.

The aircraft, which can direct their jet exhaust downward to take off and land vertically or with a very short runway, were intended to provide air support to ground troops in areas where conventional runways were not available.

The Harrier was considered accident prone in its original configuration, but has overcome that reputation in current models.