NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Navy F-14 fighter jet heavy with fuel for a trip to San Diego crashed in a huge fireball in a neighborhood Monday, demolishing three houses and killing five people.
Three of the dead were in a house that took a direct hit from the Tomcat. The plane's two-member crew also died.
The jet exploded as it hit the ground in the middle-class neighborhood, setting houses on fire and sending terrified residents into the streets.
Smoldering pieces of metal and debris rained into the yards of nearby homes. Witnesses said the jet skipped along the ground and clipped several houses.
"It was moving so fast I couldn't even tell what shape it was, and then this huge fireball erupted and the heat came through the glass of my car," said Don Isert, who was driving near the airport.
The Navy said the twin-engine, two-seat military jet crashed shortly after taking off from Berry Field, an Air National Guard facility next to Nashville International Airport, about 9:30 a.m. The fighter was on an unarmed training mission, returning to its base at Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego.
The Navy identified the crew as Lt. Cmdr. John Stacy Bates, 33, of Chattanooga, and Lt. Graham Alden Higgins, 28, of Dover-Foxcroft, Maine. Neither ejected before the crash.
Elmer Newsom, 66, and his wife, Ada Newsom, 63, were killed in their home, police said. A visiting friend, Ewing T. Wair, 53, also was killed.
William Mattingly was one of two people who escaped from one of the houses that caught fire. He and his girlfriend almost died in the flames that engulfed their home, he said.
"My fiancee was screaming and we ran into the living room, trying to get out," he said. "Everything was on fire. We got out, and I threw her over the fence."
The cause of the crash was not immediately known. The Pentagon sent Vice Adm. Brent Bennitt, commander of the Pacific Fleet's naval air force, to Nashville to oversee the investigation. Thirty Tomcats have crashed since 1991, Navy officials said.
Pilot Bates also was involved in an F-14 crash off the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln last spring, Navy officials said.