VIRGINIA BEACH, VA (RNN) - An F/A-18D Hornet Navy fighter jet crashed into an apartment complex near Virginia Beach, VA, sending fuel and debris flying and erupting into flames.
Both crew members - who ejected at the very last moment to avoid a nearby school - and five civilians on the ground were treated at local hospitals. All but one had been released by 6 p.m. ET.
According to CNN, all of the residents have been accounted for , however, officials are not sure if any guests were staying at the complex at the time of the accident.
The plane crashed shortly after takeoff around 12:05 ET, suffering a "catastrophic mechanical malfunction," according to Capt. Mark Weisberger, deputy commander of Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic.
Weisberger said the crew comprised of a student pilot in the front seat and an "extremely experienced" instructor pilot in the backseat.
"In the case of a catastrophic malfunction, we do have emergency procedures. There's no indication the air crew was able to do anything but have a forced ejection today," Weisberger said.
An eyewitness to the plane crash, George Pilkington, said that within 200 or 300 yards of where the plane crashed, the aircraft emptied its jet fuel, with its nose up, and crashed into a building at the Mayfair Mews Apartments.
At least five buildings have been heavily damaged. The fire has been put out, and crews are going through the buildings to check for anyone who may have been injured.
"One building was completely leveled, and debris was just flying into the other buildings," he said.
Pilkington said there were a couple of large explosions after the crash, and people fled the scene.
"Right when I saw it, I knew something was wrong," he said. The airplane was making a sound, he said, as if the engine was malfunctioning.
The area where the plane crashed is one-half mile from Virginia Beach oceanfront, with many homes and resort complexes.
The American Red Cross has opened a shelter for residents impacted by the crash.
"I deeply regret that some in our community have lost their homes, and I, like many, pray for the well-being of all," said Adm. John C. Harvey, Jr. commander of the U.S. Fleet Forces, in a statement.
Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital has treated seven patients so far, all with non-life threatening injuries. Included are the two crew members, one listed in good condition, the other in fair condition.
One of them was found on the ground, still strapped to his seat, in shock, according to a witness.
"He apologized for hitting our building," said Pat Kavanaugh.
Another witness to the aftermath, Zack Zapatero, says people on the ground near the apartments were screaming and crying, with visible cuts and injuries.
He said many residents are elderly.
The City of Virginia Beach has set up a hotline for family members to report loved ones who lived at the apartment complex who they think may be missing.
The crash site is just north of Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia, where the crew is based. According to Military Times: "The aircraft was from Strike Fighter Squadron 106, a Hornet flight replacement squadron. A FRS trains aviators to fly a specific airframe."
The jet is the same type of plane flown by the flight exposition team the Blue Angels, which are based in Pensacola Naval Air Station in Florida.
Exactly one year ago today, on April 6, 2011, a two-seater F/A-18F crashed at Naval Air Station Lanore in Central California.
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