A Navy F-18 fighter just went down smack in the middle of a Virginia Beach apartment complex, demolishing buildings and leaving others ablaze after multiple explosions—the jet itself is an enormous flaming heap of jet wreckage.
WAVY-TV reports "the Navy told WAVY.com the plane was an F18 Strike fighter squadron 106," and is clearly still ablaze from on the ground images. No word on whether any pilot was injured (or dead), but there are already reports of injured pedestrians. No word on what caused the plane, which costs tens of millions of dollars to go down, but it somehow managed to avoid hitting a minigolf course and water park, though nearby residences may not have been spared. CNN relays one particularly awful detail:
Another witness, Zack Zapatero, said the plane crashed into a building occupied by senior citizens. He took photos of the scene. "There's these large fire balls coming up," Zapatero said. "I was told there was a bunch of senior citizens that live in that building, which worries me a lot. "Buildings were starting to collapse," he said of the wreckage scene.
Are you near the crash? Have you heard from anyone nearby or taken any pictures? Email me.
Update 12:56 PM EDT: A local NBC affiliate says both F-18 pilots have been taken to the hospital after ejecting. A nearby apartment building (!) is being searched for casualties.
Update 12:59 PM EDT: Local radio station 96X has this picture of the massive smoke column pouring out of the wreck.
Update 1 PM EDT: This Instagram shot clearly shows buildings on fire as a result of the crash.
Update 1:05 PM EDT: A local news crew is live on the scene. Footage here.
Update 1:06 PM EDT: One Twitter user has already located the plane's battered ejection seat.
Update 1:10 PM EDT: Virginia Beach resident and eyewitness Ross Grogg reports "At least 1 civilian leaving scene on stretcher."
Update 1:14 PM EDT: Here's a Google Street View peek at the Mayfair Mews Apartments, which look to be devastated by the crash. Very dense—not a good place for an F-18 impact.
Update 1:16 PM EDT: Facebook user Chandler Blake Ferguson relays this image of the F-18 on its way down, allegedly "dumping fuel everywhere and blowing white smoke out."
Update 1:18 PM EDT: It looks like we were wrong before—the plane didn't crash near a school, but into (or extremely close to) an apartment complex.
Update 1:19 PM EDT: We spoke to Lieutenant Commander Mike Kafka from the US Navy:
This morning an F18 assigned to 106 training squad crashed just
outside the US Naval Airbase Oceana. Both pilots safely ejected. Lt.
Kafka said they'd heard reports that the plane crashed into a
apartment complex, but fell short of actually confirming them. He said
both military and nonmilitary responders were on the ground. Couldn't
confirm reports of an casualties on the ground and said that the cause
of the crash was still unknown at the time.
The Navy told us that more information is coming.
Update 1:25 PM EDT: A VA EMS radio scanner reports the following:
4th alarm + mass casualty in area of birdneck rd & 24th st. navy fighter jet crashed into multiple apartment buildings.
Update 1:27 PM EDT: Local writer and photographer M. Scott Mahaskey is listening to the fire department scanner: "Apartment building "Pretty much destroyed
Update 1:28 PM EDT: Another Facebook user beaming in a look at the burning apartments.
Update 1:32 PM EDT: An aerial feed from WAVY-TV shows nearby roofs knocked (or burnt) off from the blast.
We are ok. Do know 2 pilots safety ejected & are at hospital. 1 kept apologizing that he crashed into our neighborhood.
the pilot said"Im sorry for hitting you building"Im like dude u just survived a #jetcrash it will be alright! hats off to the Pilot
Update 1:38 PM EDT: NBC News says both pilots are hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries.
Update 1:39 PM EDT: Local news has talked to a retired medic who was the first to reach one of the injured pilots.
Update 1:41 PM EDT: A Norfolk police officer wrote in to say he's gotten word from his fellow officers on the scene: "Three or four apartments completely destroyed."
Update 1:42 PM EDT: Ross Grogg says one of the fires looks to be under control.
Update 1:46 PM EDT: VA Governor Bob McDonnell just issued a fairly standard statement:
"We are taking all possible steps at the state level to provide immediate resources and assistance to those impacted by the crash of an F-18 fighter jet in Virginia Beach. In the past half hour I have spoken to Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms several times and informed him that all Commonwealth resources are available to him as the community responds to this breaking situation. We are monitoring events carefully as they unfold and State Police resources are now on the scene. Our fervent prayer is that no one was injured or killed in this accident."
Update 1:47 PM EDT: CNN reports the local fire department still hasn't found anyone injured or received a notice of missing persons.
Update 1:50 PM EDT: Terrifying video of the scene immediately after the plane hit ground.
Update 1:51 PM EDT: The second ejection seat's been discovered, in what looks like someone's yard. Luckily they weren't gardening.
Update 1:54 PM EDT: Another close-up shot of the plane's aft section wrapped in flame—this must have been very soon after the crash.
Update 1:58 PM EDT: More local news coverage of the crash response.
Update 2:00 PM EDT: More details straight from the Navy:
Initial reports indicate that at approximately 12:05 p.m., the jet crashed just after takeoff at a location just off of the base.
Update 2:05 PM EDT: It looks like the second ejection seat careened straight through a fence before stopping—understandable why these guys are in the hospital, given reports of at least one of the pilots still being attached to his chair at impact.
Update 2:06 PM EDT: Virginian-Pilot reporter Sarah Hutchins has some disquieting news:
Pure chaos out here. Still lacking basic info about any casualties. Officials have not gone into apartment complex yet.
Update 2:08 PM EDT: Ross Grogg has some comforting news:
fires appear to be out. Great job by emergency crews on the ground.
Update 2:10 PM EDT: NBC 12 says five civilians are now being treated for injuries in addition to the two pilots.
Update 2:13 PM EST: From everything we can gather, it seems like most of (if not all) the fires have been extinguished—now it's a matter of triage and finding out just how bad it is inside those smashed buildings.
Update 2:16 PM EDT: Our pals at Jalopnik cooked up this helpful map of the crash—that plane barely made it off the tarmac.
Update 2:21 PM EDT: It's worth mentioning that jet fly-bys are nothing out of the ordinary for this part of the country—the Virginia Beach area has an enormous military presence.
Update 2:23 PM EDT: CNN says the pilots attempted, unsuccessfully, to steer their plane toward the ocean before crashing.
Update 2:26 PM EDT: Another cringe-inducing detail from the Virginian-Pilot:
Ted Laffkas, 42, was walking out of his townhouse at 905 24th St. when he heard an explosion, looked up to see two guys "flying in the air."
Update 2:32 PM EDT: For those of you unfamiliar with the F-18, this photo should help lend a sense of scale. It's large.
Update 2:44 PM EDT: Giz reader Alex sent in this chilling photo from the interior of the smoldering crash site.
Update 2:48 PM EDT: Reuters' Matthew Keys has details from a fire department briefing:
No reports of missing people from apt. complex where F-18 craft crashed.
Fire official: Five buildings heavily damaged from crash; four apartments in each building.
Right now, asking people to stay away. F-18 aircraft have carbon fibers, possibly in the smoke after crash.
Pilots were "conscious, talking to us" after F-18 crash.
Update 2:56 PM EDT: Gripping account of one pilot's rescue, via HamptonRoads.com:
Beane pulled his knife out to start cutting the cords from the parachute and the pilot regained consciousness.
"He said, 'Thank you,'" Beane said.
Then the pilot got quiet. He was looking around, dazed.
"He kept repeatedly saying, 'Is everybody OK?'" Beane said.
The pilot wanted to know if everyone in the apartment complex was safe and where his co-pilot was located.
Update 3:00 PM EDT: Another early video from the crash aftermath. Frighteningly close.
Update 3:06 PM EDT: From an eyewitness:
"I hear those jets fly over every night. I always feared this would happen."
Update 3:07 PM EDT: Fire authorities say they're now beginning to enter the buildings—or whatever's left of them—though reigniting jet fuel is making things tricky.
Update 3:11 PM EDT: Firefighting crews are still spraying the wreckage and surrounding area with retardant foam
Update 3:22 PM EDT: Reporter Mike Lopez brings this photo of the jet's smashed canopy, seemingly jammed into the side of an apartment.
Update 3:23 PM EDT: Virginian-Pilot reporter Kerry Dougherty snapped this shot of rescue personnel preparing to enter the apartment ruins.
Update 3:30 PM EDT: Virginia Beach Mayor Sessoms on the scene: "So far there have been no fatalities. I don't expect that to be the case by the end."
Update 3:31 PM EDT: The Virginian-Pilot points out another grim factoid about the Navy base in question today:
There have been more than 25 crashes involving Navy aircraft on or near the base over the past four decades.
Update 3:53 PM EDT: ABC 13 News is reporting the area has been evacuated to keep residents protected against hazardous carbon fibers dispersed through the air from the plane's body.
Update 4:00 PM EDT: ABC 13 News says the Navy is planning on fully reassembling the F-18, and urging residents to stay away from debris. Apparently, even touching it is against the law.
Update 4:02 PM EDT The pilot's dazed apology of "I'm sorry for destroying your house" may be the craziest part of this whole disaster.