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Virginia Navy jet crash crews look for missing

April 6, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Emergency crews continued to search through the charred remains of a Virginia Beach apartment complex Friday night, where some 40 apartment units were damaged or destroyed by a jet crash.

No fatalities have been reported, but three residents of the complex are still unaccounted for. Seven people, including the two pilots, were taken to the hospital. Two people were treated for smoke inhalation, one fainted at the scene and the other person was a police officer hurt at the scene, officials said. All except one of the pilots have been released as of Friday night.

It was a scene some witnesses described as a massive fireball. The aircraft went down at 12:05 p.m. ET shortly after take-off from the Oceana Naval Station, a Navy spokesman said. The jet hit the two-story Mayfair Mews apartment complex, setting about 40 units on fire.

Navy officials say the fiery jet crash could have been much worse had the jet not dumped loads of fuel before slamming into the apartment complex. One of the two airmen who ejected landed on Pat Kavanaugh's porch.

"I saw a pilot laying there, bleeding from the nose and his parachute hanging from the building, and I knew exactly what had happened, the jet had crashed," Kavanaugh said.

Officials say the pilots were taking part in a training exercise when something went wrong. The pilots were a student and instructor taking part in a training exercise when something went wrong.

"Initial indications are that the aircraft suffered a catastrophic mechanical malfunction, the specifics of which I don't want to speculate on," said Capt. Mark Weisgerber with U.S. Fleet Forces Command.

Firefighters responded to the third-alarm fire in the Birdneck Road area and knocked down flames. Thick, black smoke was seen billowing from the area.

Three buildings were destroyed, and two more had significant damage, showing gaping holes with fire-blackened edges. Virginia Beach fire officials say a primary search of the five damaged buildings turned up no fatalities. A secondary search is under way.

The complex is just a few miles away from the Oceana Naval Station. In 2005, the Department of Defense ruled that the base should be moved due to the danger posed by its proximity to residential neighborhoods.

Virginia Beach has taken steps to help with the encroachment issue including buying up land nearby to avoid further residential development.

The same model of fighter jet, an F/A-18D, crashed in December 2008 while returning to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar after a training exercise in a San Diego neighborhood. That crash killed four members of one family and destroyed two homes.

The Marine Corps said the jet suffered a mechanical failure, but a series of bad decisions led the pilot - a student - to bypass a potentially safe landing at a coastal Navy base after his engine failed. A federal judge awarded the family nearly $18 million in restitution.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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