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Navy F/A-18D crashes into Va. apartment complex

Apr. 6, 2012 - 01:25PM   |   Last Updated: Apr. 6, 2012 - 01:25PM  |  
The burning fuselage of an F/A-18 Hornet lies smoldering after crashing into a residential building in Virginia Beach, Va., on April 6.
The burning fuselage of an F/A-18 Hornet lies smoldering after crashing into a residential building in Virginia Beach, Va., on April 6. (Kandice Angel / The Associated Press)
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An F/A-18D Hornet from Naval Air Station Oceana, Va., crashed Friday into a two-story apartment building in nearby Virginia Beach.

The pilot and naval flight officer ejected safely and were taken to a local hospital for observation, Navy officials said.

There was "significant disruption" to the buildings, said Battalion Chief Tim Riley, a Virginia Beach Fire Department spokesman.

Cheri Hinschelwood, a spokeswoman for Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital, said the medical center has treated six patients tied to the crash, including the two aviators, three civilians, and another civilian who was treated and released.

Two of the patients suffered from smoke inhalation and another passed out. One of the aviators was in fair condition and the other in good condition mid-afternoon Friday, the hospital said in a statement.

In the last two years, local emergency services have had two off-site training drills with the Navy, Riley said. "It's integrated into our system," he said. "Unfortunately, today it's come to fruition."

The aircraft was from Strike Fighter Squadron 106, a Hornet flight replacement squadron. An FRS trains aviators to fly a specific airframe. It crashed about 12:05 p.m., shortly after takeoff.

"We will conduct a complete investigation into the cause of this mishap and share all information we have as soon as we are able to do so," said Adm. John Harvey, commander of Fleet Forces Command.

Former Navy SEAL Patrick McAleenan, who was a block away at his home when the plane crashed, said the sound was unmistakable and the vibrations made his house shake.

"I knew it was an aircraft. They fly over all the time. I knew it was an aircraft," he said in a phone interview.

He said the pilots ejected at the last possible second in an apparent effort to make sure that the plane would not crash into a nearby school.

McAleenan said that the aviators appeared to be safe, considering the circumstances.

"One of them, literally, his parachute hung on a balcony. The people on the ground were dragging him to safety," he said.

The F/A-18's tail section was intact, lying in the apartment building's courtyard, he said.

"There's fire crews. There are lines. Everybody is helping everybody. The lines are charged and ready, and it looks like they are looking to see if there are any casualties or survivors and assessing the damage," McAleenan said.

Virginia State Police also were on the scene, providing traffic guidance and controlling the perimeter.

So far this year, there have been at least two F/A-18 Class A mishaps, the most serious type of accident. The latest was an F/A-18C crash Feb 26 in Bahrain. Two days earlier, an F/A-18F crashed during a routine training mission in Fallon, Nev.

Off-base crashes have caused the military legal problems. In 2008 a Marine Corps Hornet crashed into a San Diego home, killing four. The pilot safely ejected. In December a federal judge awarded the surviving family of the victims $17.8 million. Two homes were burned in the crash.

The Corps said the plane had mechanical problems, but bad decisions by a student pilot prevented what could have been a safe landing at a naval base.

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