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.