VIRGINIA BEACH -- The crew of an Oceana-based jet was injured when their F/A-18D Navy jet crashed just after take-off Friday afternoon.
The Navy confirms the F/A-18D Hornet from VFA-106 went down around 12:05 p.m. on nearby Birdneck Road and the plane struck the courtyard of Mayfair Mews apartments. It sparked a three-alarm fire.
Friday evening, Captain Mark Weisgerber with Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic said at a press conference that the plane went down because of a mechanical failure and that the dumping of fuel was not intentional.
Captain Weisgerber added that a fleet replacement pilot training on a new aircraft was in front and an experienced instructor pilot was in the back seat. They were forced to eject when their aircraft suffered a catastrophic mechanical malfunction shortly after takeoff. He said, as always, there will be a full investigation. He stated that both pilots were recovering and coherent.
A witness told 13News he saw the jet flying low, then heard loud pop, pop, pop sounds and then heard the crash.
Many others say they saw what appeared to be fuel being dumped before the plane went down.
Joanie Coleman, who lives at the complex, described the scene.
"The whole back yard was in flames and then things started to explode. I mean --- things just kept exploding and the black smoke just kept coming. I walked around the back and there were people there and they had the pilot. He fell onto someone’s patio. He was in shock and he apologized to the person who was trying to help him. He said 'I’m sorry I landed in your back yard.'"
Another witness was shocked to see the injured pilot on his porch. “I heard a couple of big bangs and they weren’t normal, so I got off the couch and went to the back door and I saw a pilot laying there, bleeding from the nose and his parachute hanging from the building. I knew exactly what happened a jet had crashed, I just didn’t know where until I saw the smoke. Then we had to get some neighbors to help carry the guy away from the building because we didn’t know if it was going to catch fire or not back in the parking lot. He said he had a pilot with him. We didn’t have time to go look for him. We didn’t know where he was.“
"He apologized sincerely for hitting our complex. I told him don’t worry about it. You take care of yourself and we’ll take care of you," the resident stated.
One of the pilots was treated and released; the other was hospitalized, Sentara Va. Beach General Hospital officials said.
As a result of the mishap, NAS Oceana shut down flight operations.
The Navy says it will conduct limited flight operations at NAS Oceana about 9:00 a.m. to recover eight jets that diverted to NAS Chambers Field in Norfolk and to launch eight aircraft that need to depart from NAS Oceana for other destinations.
Once those operations are completed, NAS Oceana will shut down for the remainder of the weekend and begin flight operations again as scheduled on Monday morning.
VFA-106 serves as the East Coast Fleet Replacement Squadron. Its mission is to train Navy and Marine Corps F/A-18 Replacement Pilots and Weapon Systems Officers to support fleet commitments.
Adm. John C. Harvey, Jr., commander, U.S. Fleet Forces, said, "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."
Gov. Bob McDonnell promised immediate help for those impacted by the crash.