An eyewitness said that the Navy F/A-18F aircraft that crashed on approach to Naval Air Station Key West yesterday, killing two aviators, may have exploded in midair.
Navy officials said late Thursday that the aircraft was on final approach to the base from a routine training mission when the mishap occurred, but couldn’t go into further detail while undergoing the preliminary stages of the investigation.
One eyewitness, however, who lives along the aircraft’s approach path to the base, told Military.com yesterday that the crash “looked like something out of a movie.”
Barbie Wilson had stopped to watch the F/A-18 flying overhead when she saw what she called a “massive malfunction” in midair.
“The wings went vertical, and there was a fireball, and it just literally dropped out of the sky,” Wilson said in the report.
She didn’t see the aircrew eject, the report said, nor did she see the aircraft hitting the water, but she later observed it laying upside down in the shallows.
Initial Navy reports following the crash said that search and rescue teams had recovered both the pilot and the weapons officer after they ejected. But a later release from Naval Air Forces Atlantic confirmed the terrible outcome.
“We are sad to report both aviators have passed away,” Said Cmdr. Dave Hecht, spokesman for AIRLANT. “An investigation is underway to determine the cause of the mishap and per DoD policy, the names of the deceased cannot be released until 24 hours after next of kin are notified.”
The news of the fatal crash caught the eye of President Donald Trump, who tweeted his condolences early this morning.
The aircraft and aircrew were from the “Fighting Black Lions” of Strike Fighter Squadron 213, based out of Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.