VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – A 12-ton Navy jet loaded with tons of fuel crashes in a spectacular fireball into a big apartment complex, scattering plane parts and wiping out some 40 units. How is it that everyone survived?
The mayor of Virginia Beach could only call it a Good Friday miracle and pilots marveled at how a failed training flight that engulfed buildings in flames managed to crash without killing anyone. The student pilot, his instructor and five on the ground were hurt, but all were out of the hospital by Saturday.
Investigators, witnesses and experts said multiple factors were at play:
Most of the F/A-18D jet’s fuel was dumped before the crash, causing less of an explosion.
The Navy credited neighbors and citizens with pulling pilots away from the flames after they safely ejected.
The plane crashed into the apartment complex’s empty courtyard, and two days before Easter in the middle of the day, most residents weren’t home.
At the end of the day, said Daniel O. Rose, a former Navy jet pilot, I think it was a lot of fortuity. You look at this as a one-off and you still got to scratch your head.
Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms took to Twitter on Saturday to celebrate the fact no lives were lost, calling it a Good Friday miracle.
The F/A-18D Hornet suffered some sort of massive mechanical problem while soaring above Virginia Beach on Friday, sending it plunging into the Mayfair Mews apartment complex and taking out dozens of units. All residents had been accounted for early Saturday after careful apartment checks, fire department Capt. Tim Riley said.
Investigators will work from the outside of the site toward the center to gather parts from the jet and examine them, as well as check out the flight data recorders, which had not yet been recovered, Harvey said. The investigation could take weeks, he said.
The Navy maps out areas where crashes could occur to make sure residential growth is limited there; the Mayfair Mews complex was in an area where future growth is limited. City and state officials also have spent millions in recent years to buy land where military planes would be most likely to crash.