'Oh my God!' Callers recount Navy jet crash

Story highlights

  • "A Navy plane just went down on 24th Street," a caller told dispatchers
  • "Oh my God! It's like something keeps exploding," another woman told 911
  • Seven people, including two pilots, were injured, but no one died in the crash
  • The service will compensate people whose homes were destroyed
Emergency calls highlight the confusion in a Virginia Beach, Virginia, neighborhood after a Navy fighter jet crashed last week, with one woman reporting that a pilot was on her patio awaiting medical aid.
Authorities released recordings of the calls on Monday, three days after the F/A-18 Hornet slammed into an apartment complex about two miles from the naval air station where it took off.
"Nobody's here, and I keep calling and there's no ambulance," one woman told a 911 dispatcher from her condominium a few blocks from the crash site. She said one of two fliers who ejected from the stricken warplane was outside, that he was conscious and that she had already called for help.
"He's still on my patio, but they told me to evacuate, and there's other guys there helping him," the unidentified woman says. "My neighbor's there helping him."
Seven people, including the two-person crew of the Hornet, were injured when the aircraft crashed into a Virginia Beach apartment complex on Friday. But there were no fatalities, a fact that Adm. John Harvey called a "miracle" over the weekend.
"A Navy plane just went down on 24th Street," a man says in another call to dispatchers. "It hit an apartment complex and I saw the, um, the pilot bail out. The pilot did bail out -- I saw it -- but it hit the apartment complex."
The aircraft experienced a "catastrophic mechanical malfunction" during takeoff from Naval Air Station Oceana on Friday, raining jet fuel over Virginia Beach before plunging to the ground, according to residents and Navy officials. It landed upright and in flames in the middle of the courtyard of the Mayfair Mews apartment complex, setting five surrounding buildings on fire.
"There's a terrible fire at the Mayfair Mews apartment building. ... Oh my God! It's like something keeps exploding or something," another woman tells dispatchers.
The jet carried a student pilot in the front seat and an experienced instructor behind him, and the leakage of jet fuel was "one of the indications that there was a mechanical malfunction," Navy Capt. Mark Weisgerber told reporters. The plane was part of a training squadron at Oceana and was not carrying live ordnance.
The Navy said Monday that investigators have recovered the flight recorder from the Hornet. The device, which records flight data but not cockpit voices, has been sent to a Navy air base at Patuxent River, Maryland, for analysis, Navy officials said in a written statement Monday afternoon.
The wing and part of the fuselage of the plane were being moved to Oceana for further study, but the remains of the jet's twin engines will remain at the crash site for now as investigators study them, the U.S. Atlantic fleet's aviation arm reported.
The Navy expects to finish removing most aircraft debris by the end of the week as part of its investigation. And the service will soon begin cutting compensation checks to the people who lost their homes in the crash, said Rear Adm. Tim Alexander, commander of the Navy's Mid-Atlantic region.
"We are committed to doing the right thing to address the needs of these families, who through no fault of their own have endured an incredible hardship," Alexander said. "We owe it to everyone affected by Friday's accident to help them get their life back together."
Initial payments will begin at $2,300 per person to cover immediate needs, such as housing, meals and clothing. The amount will increase for additional family members. Counseling and legal services also will be available, Alexander said.
Residents who completed claims by Saturday could receive payments by Monday.