An F-18 Navy jet on a training mission crashed into a Virginia Beach apartment complex Friday afternoon, sending smoke billowing into the air and forcing emergency crews to scramble to the area.
A Navy spokesperson told WAVY.com that the plane was an F/A-18D from Strike Fighter Squadron 106. It was on a training mission at the time of the crash.
The crash happened within five miles of the runway at Naval Air Station Oceana, where the Navy teaches F-18 pilots. Initial reports indicated that the jet crashed at about 12:05 p.m. just after takeoff.
In total, seven injuries have been reported. Three people refused treatment at the scene and four people -- including the pilots, a student and an instructor -- were transported to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. All but one of the pilots have been released. No fatalities have been reported.
Bruce Nedelka, Virginia Beach EMS division chief, said that witnesses saw fuel being dumped from the jet before it went down, and that fuel was found on buildings and vehicles in the area. Nedelka said that maneuver -- or malfunction -- likely prevented what could have been a massive fireball and fire.
The jet suffered a mechanical failure, according to the Marine Corps, but a series of bad decisions led the student pilot to bypass a possible safe landing at a coastal Navy base after his engine failed, the Associated Press reported. He told investigators he screamed in horror after ejecting and watching the plane crash.
The following picture provided by WAVY TV shows the canopy from the jet resting on a fence beside the crash scene:
The Associated Press reported that residents of the apartment complex described a confusing scene and an apologetic pilot.
Colby Smith said his house started shaking and then the power went out, as he saw a red and orange blaze outside his window. He ran outside, where he saw billowing black smoke and then came upon the pilot as he ran to a friend's home.
"I saw the parachute on the house and he was still connected to it, and he was laying on the ground with his face full of blood," Smith told WVEC-TV.
"The pilot said, 'I'm sorry for destroying your house.'"
Smith said he and another man helped the pilot onto the street.
Joanie Coleman said she heard several explosions and saw the black smoke. She picked up her bag and ran around behind the apartment, where people were tending to the pilot.
"He fell onto someone's patio," she said. "... He was in shock and he apologized to the person who was trying to help him. He said, 'I'm sorry I landed in your back yard.'"
A multicolored parachute could be seen hanging from the roof of an apartment closest to the crash center.
WAVY.com reported that Virginia Department of Transportation traffic cameras showed thick, black smoke rising from the Birdneck Road area Friday afternoon. Four or five buildings were reportedly on fire after the crash. There are eight units in each of the buildings.
The picture below, which was an eyewitness image submitted to WAVY.com, shows some of the damage.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell issued the following statement this afternoon following news of the crash:
"We are taking all possible steps at the state level to provide immediate resources and assistance to those impacted by the crash of an F-18 fighter jet in Virginia Beach. In the past half hour I have spoken to Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms several times and informed him that all Commonwealth resources are available to him as the community responds to this breaking situation. We are monitoring events carefully as they unfold and State Police resources are now on the scene. Our fervent prayer is that no one was injured or killed in this accident."
"All of us are grateful for the quick and effective efforts of Virginia Beach emergency personnel to assist dozens of residents who sustained damage or loss," read a statement from Sen. Mark Warner.
"What is truly remarkable are the multiple stories of neighbors and bystanders who sprang into action immediately, without regard to their own safety, to assist our military pilots and help our first responders," Warner said. "Virginians have a proud tradition of strong support for our military, and the men and women who serve in Hampton Roads are our neighbors, friends and family members."
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