A US Navy fighter jet that malfunctioned just after takeoff crashed into apartment buildings in Virginia Beach, authorities said.
The two pilots – one student and his instructor managed to eject just before impact, suffering minor injuries along with five others on the ground. Remarkably, there were no initial reports of deaths after about 40 units in the complex were destroyed or damaged by flames.
Some residents still had not been located, officials said, but it’s possible they weren’t even home when the F-18 Hornet exploded into the Mayfair Mews Apartments, bursting into bright orange flames.
Virginia Beach Fire Department Capt. Tim Riley said crews had done an exhaustive search of about 95 percent of the apartment complex and would continue searching throughout the night.
“We consider ourselves very fortunate,” he said.
Moments before, the airplane was seen flying too low, trailing smoke and flames. Witnesses watched as the two pilots ejected from the aircraft.
Bruce Nedelka, the Virginia Beach EMS division chief, said that witnesses saw fuel spilling from the jet before it went down and that fuel was found on buildings and vehicles in the area.
The crash happened in the Hampton Roads area, which has a large concentration of military bases, including Naval Station Norfolk, the largest naval base in the world.
Admiral John Harvey Jr, commander of the U.S. Fleet Forces, praised the “heroic response” of those at the complex and emergency personnel who took care of the air crew and others at the scene.