Navy F/A-18 Jet Crashes into Building in Virginia Beach
Witnesses Say Jet 'Hit Dead Center' of Apartment Building
Jet Crashes into Virginia Beach Neighborhood Image by Associated Press
VIRGINIA BEACH, VA-A Navy F/A-18 jet crashed Friday into a cluster of apartments in Virginia Beach, Va., setting a number of buildings on fire, authorities and witnesses said.
A witness told MSNBC cable television that he arrived seconds after the crash at a building he described as a two-story apartment building that he said had been hit dead center. Aerial television coverage showed black smoke billowing from several buildings. The Virginian-Pilot reported that the buildings were in the Mayfair Mews Apartments.
The Sentara Virginia Beach Hospital admitted one patient who had been on the ground at the time of the crash, the public information officer at the facility said. The individual had suffered smoke inhalation, but their condition was unknown, the spokesman said.
A Navy official told NBC News that both pilots had been taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. "They were ambulatory," the official told NBC.
Chief Tim Riley of Virginia Beach Fire and Rescue said four to five buildings were on fire and that there was significant damage to about 20 apartments.
Video taken from a WAVY-TV helicopter showed fire crews in the apartment complex with large ladders spraying water on multiple smoking buildings.
Cmdr. Phil Rosi of the Navy said the two-seat jet fighter crashed about 12:05 p.m. shortly after takeoff. He said both crew members ejected from the aircraft. The Navy said the jet, assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106, took off from nearby Naval Air Station Oceana.
Witnesses described a frightening scene as they saw the aircraft plummet toward the ground.
John Swain told MSNBC he was driving, coming off Interstate 264 to head north.
"The plane came right over us and was clearly in difficulty," he said. "There was flames coming off the back … The plane got lower and lower and just as I turned … it crashed."
He said the jet apparently crashed into what looked like a two-story apartment building.
"Within five seconds of it going down I was at the building where it hit," Swain said.
Ernie Gonzalez, who is retired military, was sitting on the front porch of his daughter-in-law’s house behind the base where the jet had taken off. He said a few other jets had departed before the one that crashed for what was believed to be a practice or training run. The doomed jet quickly ran into trouble.
"He was flying real low like he didn’t have any power,” Gonzalez told msnbc.com by telephone.
"He was smoking really bad. Bad smoke was coming out of the engine. It kind of backfired a couple times. I heard two pops … then 15 seconds later I heard the explosion."
Gonzalez said the other jets then started circling around the crash site.
Amy Miller told The Virginian-Pilot she was outside the cleaners where she works when she saw a plane coming down with fire on its wing.
"I saw two parachutes eject. I saw them open up and then head toward the ground to the right of the jet," she told the newspaper
About two seconds later it crashed, she said.
"It looked like it had either hit the building or slid into it. Part of the building had crumpled up," she said, according to the Virginian-Pilot.
Austin Makie, of Virginia Beach, said he was golfing with two friends on a course a few miles away from where the jet went down. He said they were riding in a cart headed to the next hole when they heard a loud boom.
"We looked around … and there was a very large pile of smoke. There was really big stench like gas in the air," he told msnbc.com.
State and local police were on the scene to assist the military, according to Grazia Moyers, spokeswoman for the Virginia Beach Police Department, NBC affiliate station WAVY reported.
"We are taking all possible steps at the state level to provide immediate resources and assistance to those impacted by the crash..." said Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. "Our fervent prayer is that no one was injured or killed in this accident."