VIRGINIA BEACH -- One year after a fighter jet fell from the sky and struck a Va. Beach apartment complex, Navy leaders are still puzzled how no one was significantly injured or killed.
“When I came on scene, it was still smoldering but the fires were out," said Naval Air Station Oceana Commanding Officer Captain Bob Geis. "Looking at the devastation there, even at that point, I couldn’t imagine that nobody had been seriously hurt or killed. It was an absolutely unbelievable experience.”
The flight of the F/A-18D Hornet lasted just 70 seconds.
A three-month Navy investigation found that two seconds after takeoff, there was an unprecedented series of events. The right engine had a compressor-related fuel injection problem which set off the “stall” caution light.
20 seconds after that, the pilot tried to increase thrust in the left engine, but the afterburner failed to light.
The Navy says that in the three decade-plus history of the Hornet program, never before have both engines sustained catastrophic failure simultaneously during launch.
The two aviators stayed with the plane, ejecting just 50 feet from the ground and one second before the jet fell into Mayfair Mews apartments off Birdneck Road. 27 apartment units and the $37 million plane were destroyed.
It was the first Oceana-launched, civilian-involved aviation accident since 1986, after more than 6 million incident-free takeoffs and landings. Capt.Geis said the superb safety record is no accident.
“It’s a testimony to the machines that we fly and the people that fly,” he said. “It’s a testimony to procedures. It’s a testimony to the Navy culture and the safety culture we have, and in some cases it’s luck. But it’s really the procedures and the way we do business every day to minimize risk and maximize combat effectiveness.”
Geis also praised the quick reaction by civilian first responders.
“This was just another example to me that you really do have to train like you fight,” he said, noting that Navy and municipal firefighters train together frequently, most recently two weeks ago.
“The interaction we have with the City of Virginia Beach at all levels and the City of Chesapeake at all levels is really fantastic. And that’s really the thing that I took away is the relationships that we built ahead of time,” said Geis.
The Navy has never publicly identified the cockpit crew but officials say both aviators are flying again.