RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Four Navy aviators suffered only minor injuries when they ejected from their fighter jets just before the F/A-18 Super Hornets plunged into the Atlantic, a rescuer said.
The jets crashed about 10:40 a.m. Thursday off the coast of Cape Hatteras after what the Navy is calling an “in-flight mishap” during a training exercise with the aircraft, each of which cost more than $57 million.
The Coast Guard said the jets collided, but the Navy said that’s not been determined. A Naval Air Force Atlantic spokeswoman, Lt. Cmdr. Tiffani Walker, had no more details on the investigation.
“In my opinion, the guys got pretty lucky,” Derick Ansley, an aviation survival technician with the Coast Guard who helped rescue two of the pilots.
Ansley told WTKR-TV that “everything happened exactly the way it should have in that situation and somebody was looking over their shoulder when it was happening. For people to walk away from that is a pretty amazing thing.”
Wreckage from one of the jets was still on the surface of the water when they reached the men, said another Coast Guard rescuer, Claude Morrissey.
The other two aviators were pulled from the ocean by amateur fishermen who happened to be passing by, and a second Coast Guard helicopter lifted them from their yacht. All four were then taken to Norfolk Sentara General Hospital.
Rob Schutrumpf, one of fishermen on the Pammy, told WAVY-TV that a burning piece of a plane – either a wing or a tail – helped them locate the men.
“People in the water help people in the water and that’s what we did,” Schutrumpf said. “I hope they’re all OK and that’s all that matters,” he said.
Schutrumpf and his friends were on their way to Virginia Beach from Florida when the planes went down, and said they just “happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
F/A-18s are built to fight in all weather, operating in tactical squadrons from 10 aircraft carriers and stations around the world, the Navy says. The Super Hornet is the Navy’s newest model, with longer range, more aerial refueling capability and improved survivability and lethality, according to a Navy website.
The jets that crashed Thursday are not currently assigned to an aircraft carrier, Walker said. The crew is part of Strike Fighter Squadron 211, based in Virginia Beach.
Richer reported from Richmond, Virginia.
This story has been corrected to reflect that the Coast Guard now says the fishermen who rescued two pilots were on a yacht named Pammy, not a commercial fishing vessel named Tammy.