* F/A-18 from training squadron crashes soon after takeoff
* Plane had mechanical malfunction
* Pilot apologizes for crash
* Seven people sustain minor injuries
(Makes clear 7 civilians injured, four taken to hospital)
By Matthew Ward
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va., April 6 A U.S. Navy F/A-18D
fighter crashed into an apartment complex in Virginia soon after
takeoff on Friday, sending fireballs into the sky, damaging six
buildings and injuring at least seven people.
No deaths have been reported, but three residents of the
Mayfair Mews complex for the elderly were unaccounted for,
"We have physically been in every structure, and we have 95
percent completed the search and rescue," Virginia Beach Fire
and Rescue Battalion Chief Tim Riley said.
All the injuries, including those to the F/A-18 crew, have
so far been described as minor, officials said. Both crew
members ejected safely from the aircraft before it crashed into
the buildings in Virginia Beach, and one pilot was found still
strapped into his ejection seat.
Four of the injured were taken to a hospital for treatment.
Authorities had said nine people were injured, but later revised
the number to seven, not including the pilots.
The F/A-18D "suffered a catastrophic mechanical malfunction"
during a training flight, Navy Captain Mark Weisgerber said in a
statement from the Pentagon.
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 (3.2 km) from Naval
Air Station Oceana, where the F-18D was based.
Crews searched for any injured residents in five buildings,
several of which have collapsed, Riley said. Three residents in
one building were unaccounted for. Investigators will remain on
the scene for three or four more days after the search is
complete, Riley said.
Witness Kelly McQuaid, who lives near the apartment complex,
said the jet was on fire before it crashed.
"It almost looked like the nose was pointed up," she said,
"like he was trying to pull back up."
McQuaid said she saw one of the pilots as he was brought out
on a stretcher. "He actually looked pretty well," she said. You
could tell he was pretty dazed, and there were scratches on his
She said people closer to the scene told her that the pilot
apologized for crashing the plane into the building as he was
Vicki Hoffman, who lives in a condo next door to the Mews,
said one pilot landed on her neighbor's patio.
"She said she was trying to get his head gear off and said
the response was very quick," she said. "He was conscious."
The distinctive, twin-finned tail section of the F/A-18D
landed in the courtyard of the complex of two-story brick
Dozens of firefighters and emergency workers converged on
the scene, covering the apartment complex with foam.
The plane was part of a training squadron at Oceana, the
largest Navy air facility on the East Coast. It prepares Navy
and Marine aviators and weapons officers for duty. About 250
aircraft are stationed at Oceana.
Admiral John Harvey Jr, commander of the U.S. Fleet Forces,
praised the "heroic response" of those at the complex and
emergency personnel who took care of the air crew and others at
There are 37 tactical squadrons of F-18s operating from
bases worldwide and from 10 aircraft carriers. The Navy's
precision air team, the Blue Angels, flies the F-18.
Virginia Beach, with 440,000 residents, is on the Atlantic
Coast about 200 miles (320 km) south of Washington, D.C. Much of
its economy relies on tourists who come to enjoy its miles of
beaches. The city is home to a complex of military bases,
including Oceana, and the home of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet is
next door at Norfolk, Virginia.
(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson, Tom Brown, Chuck Abbott,
and Missy Ryan; Editing by Greg McCune and Stacey Joyce)