Daniel Cavanaugh was standing in a Virginia Beach, Va., convenience store parking lot when he noticed the F/A-18 Hornet.
The Navy jet appeared on path to land at Naval Air Station Oceana. But Cavanaugh instinctively knew something was wrong. It was flying awfully low. And the jet seemed slow and sluggish -- unusual for such a powerful piece of machinery.
"He just got real low like he was going to land," Cavanaugh said of the pilot. Then, suddenly, "he dropped out of the sky."
Cavanaugh described what happened next to Virginia TV station WTKR: "Boom. Huge cloud of smoke."
He added: "I knew it wasn't good. It felt like the ground shook just a little bit when it hit."
The crash took place about 12:30 p.m. EDT off 24th Street east of Birdneck Road, not far from the air station. The two crew members ejected safely.
Smoke from the crash could be seen for miles away on Interstate 264.
Other witnesses told WTKR that one of the pilots was found in a backyard, still strapped to his seat. The pilot, whose name was not released, reportedly appeared stunned to find himself in such a circumstance. He began apologizing to one of the residents who ran to his side to assist him, according to WTKR.
The impact of the crash set several apartment buildings on fire and forced the evacuation of many residents. At least three people were reportedly taken to local hospitals with injuries, including one of the two pilots. The extent of the injuries was unclear. At least one person was reportedly suffering from smoke inhalation.
Meanwhile, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell issued the following statement: "We are taking all possible steps at the state level to provide immediate resources and assistance to those impacted by the crash of an F-18 fighter jet in Virginia Beach.... Our fervent prayer is that no one was injured or killed in this accident."
U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell also released the following statement: "Our prayers are with our entire Hampton Roads and military communities right now as our first responders are admirably addressing the situation on the ground."
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