8 Apr 2012

Residents accounted for after jet crashes into buildings

8:03 am on 8 April 2012

All residents of an apartment complex for the elderly destroyed when a US fighter jet crashed into it have been accounted for following a search of the buildings.

Six buildings were destroyed or damaged and at seven people injured when the jet struck the complex for the elderly in Virginia.

All the injuries, including those to the US Navy F-18 jet crew, have so far been described as minor.

Crews searched into the night for three residents missing since the midday crash. The city's fire chief announced later that everyone had been accounted for.

The two F-18 jet pilots ejected moments before the crash at the eastern coastal tourist resort of Virginia Beach.

One was still in hospital on Saturday morning in good condition, though believed to have broken bones. Four of the injured civilians were also taken to hospital for treatment.

A navy spokesperson has confirmed this was a training flight from a large naval base at Virginia Beach, at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.

US officials say initial indications are that a catastrophic mechanical malfunction was the cause of the crash.

On board was a student pilot at the controls, accompanied by an experienced instructor.

Officials who scoured the blackened buildings for bodies and others who witnessed the crash said they were amazed no one was killed or seriously injured in the fiery crash.

A volunteer rescuer, Pat Kavanaugh, told CNN he found one of the pilots in the wreckage still strapped to his ejection seat with a parachute.

"We had to get a bunch of neighbours together to get him out of the area, pick him up and take him to safety. He apologised very much for hitting our complex. He was in shock, still strapped to his seat."

Mr Kavanaugh said the F-18 screamed right over his car, with its nose up and emptying out fuel, before it ploughed into the apartments.

Fire Chief Tim Riley said officials were attending to the needs of the up to 63 residents whose apartment units were destroyed, including finding long-term housing for them.