Virginia Beach, Va. -- Two Navy pilots ejected from a fighter jet Friday, sending their unmanned plane careening into a Virginia Beach apartment complex and engulfing several buildings in flames.
The plane had dumped fuel before crashing, though it wasn't clear if that was because of a malfunction or an intentional maneuver by the pilots, said Capt. Mark Weisgerber with U.S. Fleet Forces Command. He said investigators will try to determine the cause of the crash.
Seven people were injured, including both pilots, though all were expected to survive. By evening, authorities were still combing through the wreckage of some 40 apartment units. Fire Department Capt. Tim Riley said three residents remained unaccounted for late Friday.
The pilots were a student and instructor, Weisgerber said.
Bruce Nedelka, the EMS division chief, said witnesses saw fuel being dumped from the jet before it went down. The plane not having as much fuel on board "mitigated what could have been an absolute massive, massive fireball and fire," Nedelka said. "With all of that jet fuel dumped, it was much less than what it could have been."
The crash happened in the Hampton Roads area, which has a large concentration of military bases, including Naval Station Norfolk, the largest naval base in the world. Naval Air Station Oceana, where the F/A-18D that crashed was assigned, is located in Virginia Beach.
Dozens of police cars, fire trucks and other emergency vehicles filled the densely populated neighborhood where the plane crashed. Yellow fire hoses snaked through side streets as fire crews poured water on the charred rooftops of brick apartment houses. By late afternoon, the fire had been put out.
Colby Smith said his house started shaking and then the power went out, as he saw a red and orange blaze outside his window. He ran outside, where he saw billowing black smoke and then came upon the pilot as he ran to a friend's home.
"I saw the parachute on the house and he was still connected to it, and he was laying on the ground with his face full of blood," Smith told WVEC-TV. "The pilot said, 'I'm sorry for destroying your house.'"
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