US navy jet crashes into block of residential flats

A US Navy F-18 jet crashed into a block of residential flats in Virginia on Friday triggering an inferno, military officials said, with emergency responders rushing to the scene.

The two crew members successfully ejected from the jet which ploughed into a populated area in the eastern coastal tourist resort of Virginia Beach, the Navy confirmed on Twitter but there was little word on civilians in the area.

“RECAP—what we know—F18 from Strike Fighter Squadron 106 crashed in VA Beach. Both pilots ejected, more info as we get it,” said a tweet on the official US Navy account.

“Pilots ejected safely, but being transported to local hospital for observation,” it added.

Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital said both were being treated at its emergency room. “One person was treated for smoke inhalation on the ground,” spokesperson Sharon Hoggard said.

Firefighters were desperately trying to control the blaze, which had broken out in the heavily-built up urban area.

Witnesses said the plane came down suddenly and the spilling of jet fuel may have exacerbated the blaze.

“The buildings were starting to collapse,” Zack Zapatero told CNN television as images showed two buildings with their roofs gone, and charred and burning top floors.

“I did not see anyone running out and I was told that there’s a bunch of senior citizens that live in those buildings which that worries me a lot.

“It was just unbelievable. Law enforcement was really quick to get on the scene. But the amount of jet fuel that you could just smell on the ground, it didn’t seem right,” he said.

Another witness, Jon Swain, described how the plane smashed into the apartment block.

“There were flames coming out of its engine at the back, which I just thought was afterburn or whatever… but the plane got lower and lower. I saw one pilot eject,” he told MSNBC.

“And then you know, probably five seconds later, I was at the building where it hit. It burst into flames,” he said.

“It hit it dead center. And yeah, it’s pretty traumatic. There were a few people running from the building,” Swain added.

Emergency vehicles with sirens wailing rushed to the scene, as smoke was seen billowing from the two-storey apartment block.

Virginia Beach battalion fire chief Tim Riley said there had been no reports so far of any casualties, or missing residents.

“As of now, we have not had any confirmed injuries on the ground, but I do want to say there’s been significant damage to the five buildings,” he told CNN, adding firefighters were scouring the site for any injured or dead.

“We have had two mishap trainings over the past two years,” Riley said, adding “we have the military here and we have an enhanced system and we have… trained and planned for events of this magnitude.”

A separate Navy statement said the plane that crashed was part of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA), based nearby at Naval Air Station Oceana.

“Initial reports indicate that ... the jet crashed just after takeoff at a location just off of the base,” it said. “Both aircrew safely ejected from the aircraft.”

Oceana, which is a vast complex with more than 10km of runways, is manned by 14 600 military personnel and home to 19 fighter squadrons.—AFP

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