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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Zooming along at 170 mph in a fighter jet carrying thousands of pounds of volatile fuel, two Navy pilots faced nothing but bad choices when their aircraft malfunctioned over Virginia’s most populated city.
“Catastrophic engine system failure right after takeoff, which is always the most critical phase of flying, leaves very, very few options,” said aviation safety expert and decorated pilot J.F. Joseph. “You literally run out of altitude, air speed and ideas all at the same time,” he said.
Somehow, however, the student pilot and his instructor and everyone on the ground survived Friday when the men ejected from their F/A-18D jet moments before it crashed in a fireball in an apartment complex courtyard. The pilots and five on the ground were hurt, but all but one aviator were out of the hospital hours later.
Crews had carefully checked 95 percent of the apartments under the charred rubble and only three people remained unaccounted for early Saturday, said fire department Capt. Tim Riley.
Crews would continue searching just in case.
“We consider ourselves very fortunate,” Riley said.
The airmen from Naval Air Station Oceana, less