Many elderly homeless after U.S. Navy jet levels apartments
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - All residents of an apartment complex for the elderly in Virginia that was destroyed when a U.S. Navy fighter jet crashed into it on Friday have been accounted for, and everyone injured have been discharged from a hospital, rescue officials said on Saturday.
Many residents are now seeking somewhere to live after spending last night in a Red Cross shelter, officials said.
"Everyone has been accounted for" at the Mayfair Mews complex in Virginia Beach, the city's fire Chief Tim Riley told Reuters, after crews had searched into the night for three missing residents since the crash. "We are not actively looking for anyone."
The crash injured seven people in all, including both crew members, and damaged six buildings. A navy official said on Saturday afternoon that an aviator who had spent the night in the hospital has now been discharged.
Officials who scoured the blackened shells for bodies and civilians who witnessed the incident said they were amazed no one was killed or seriously injured in the fiery crash.
"We're considered very fortunate for this event," Riley said.
Admiral John Harvey of U.S. Navy thanked fire and police officials for the "amazing miracle ... where no one died as we know it" during a news conference.
He also thanked the city's citizens, who he said pulled the navy's aircrew to safety, dragged fire hoses into place and helped evacuate residents from the apartment complex.
"It was a pretty amazing display in Virginia Beach of what citizenship really means," Harvey said.
Rescue crews, though, have not yet issued an "all-clear" and continue combing through layers of debris to make sure no passers-by or others lie beneath the rubble. As of Saturday morning there have been no reports of missing people, Riley said.
"We have a high level of certainty, 95 or 96 certain that no one is there. But we can't be 100 percent certain" until the clean-up is finished, he said.
The U.S. Navy F/A-18 jet fighter suffered what a Pentagon official described as "a catastrophic mechanical malfunction" during a training flight before it crashed shortly after take-off. Both crew members ejected and one was found still strapped into his ejection seat.
Thick black clouds of smoke billowed into the air as fire reduced the apartment buildings to a blackened shell. The Mayfair Mews complex was less than two miles from Naval Air Station Oceana, where the F-18 was based.
Navy officials said a thorough investigation into the crash could take several weeks. They have not yet listened to the flight recorders onboard the plane, they said.
Riley said officials are now attending to the needs of the 60 or so residents whose apartment units were destroyed, including finding long-term housing for them.
The homeless residents will meet later on Saturday with officials from the Red Cross and the Navy to discuss options for housing.
The Red Cross will continue to provide shelter to anyone who needs it through the weekend, said Mary Hancock, spokeswoman for the city.