One Navy F-A-18 Hornet fighter has crashed and four others have experienced in-flight problems due to a loose fuel filler cap, according to a report published Friday.

The Navy News quoted documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act involving a non-fatal crash of an F-A-18 near Twentynine Palms, Calif., on Feb. 7, 1987."There have been four previous F-A-18A fires or potential fires resulting from fuel caps being improperly locked to the centerline tank or due to some other suspected malfunction of the fuel cap," according to a Navy accident report quoted by Navy News.

A Navy spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. Craig Quigley, confirmed that an improperly tightened fuel filler cap caused one crash of an F-A-18 Hornet, but he had not seen documents discussing the other four incidents.

"We have not detected an inherent design flaw with that fuel filler cap that would cause us to ground the aircraft or to redsign the fuel filler cap," Quigley said.

"We know of one case where a maintenance air crewman improperly secured the fuel filler cap prior to the aircraft taking off," Quigley said. "The cap was ingested by one of the engines and, as you may suspect, wiped out the engine and caused the aircraft to crash."

"The investigation into that crash showed that the maintenance crew of the F-A-18 erred in not double-checking the tightness of the fuel filler cap. In-flight vibrations caused it to shake loose. The cap is located forward of the engine intake," he said.

The pilot of the plane that crashed in California, Lt. Col. Patrick Sullivan, ejected from the fighter and survived, said Navy News, a weekly industry newsletter based in Arlington, Va.

The article said that because of the incidents, in June and July 1986, three separate warnings were sent to the chief of naval operations, the top admiral in the Navy, concerning a "routine hazard to aviation" involving the cap.

Quigley said he had no knowledge of a notice involving the cap, but added that "routine hazard to aviation notices" are filed regularly to point out "frequently overlooked maintainance actions. ... (It's) a memory reminder about something that if not done properly could be a hazard to flight."