Navy Jet Crash: Officials to Begin Recovering Plane Parts

PHOTO: An Navy F/A-18 jet plane crashed in Virginia Beach on April 6, 2012 in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
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Navy officials said today they will start a painstaking process moving "from the outside in" at a damaged Virginia Beach apartment complex to recover every part from a fighter jet that crashed Friday.

All of the pieces will be laid out in a hangar and examined by specialists, who hope to determine what went wrong with the jet, which had an experienced instructor pilot on board.

"It's going to take weeks to put this all together," said Admiral John Harvey, commander of the U.S. Fleet Forces.

The crash, which happened at 12:05 p.m. Friday, seems to have miraculously claimed no lives.

Harvey praised the work of first responders and citizens for pulling the pilots to safety and evacuating the building.

Fire officials said today they are "95 percent certain we have everybody accounted for."

Seconds after takeoff, the student pilot and instructor were forced to shut down one engine on their F/A-18 Hornet after noticing a fuel leak.

The crew began dumping fuel by pumping it over the side to keep the plane light enough to fly, but were forced to eject moments before the plane slammed into an apartment building.

The crew followed the appropriate procedures, shutting down the engine with the leak, a military source told ABC News military and aviation consultant Stephen Ganyard.

"The fact that they had to eject from the airplane tells me the aircraft was clearly uncontrollable and there was nothing more they could do to move that aircraft from populated areas," Ganyard said.

The two pilots and five people on the ground were taken to the hospital. All but one of the pilots has been released.

The crash started a fire at the Mayfair Mews apartment complex, destroying or damaging some 50 units.

Less fuel also "mitigated what could have been an absolute massive, massive fireball and fire," said Bruce Nedelka, the Virginia Beach EMS division chief, according to The Associated Press.

"The plane went straight up with no sound," John, an eyewitness, told WVEC. "And [then] he went right into a dive and I thought maybe it was a training exercise. And then, boom. I could hear it hit and I seen black smoke and instantly smelled jet fuel. ... I've never seen nothing like it before."

Eyewitness Colby Smith said he helped one of the pilots after the crash.

"I saw the pilot laying there with a bloodied-up face. He was pouring blood," Smith told WVEC. "I looked out my bedroom window and I saw nothing but red, just red and orange, flashing, and just a crackling noise. I said, 'What is that?' And then I heard a lot of 'pop, pop, pop.'"

Click here to see more photos from the crash site.

Smith and several other bystanders rushed to carry the pilot to safety.

"We picked up the pilot, who was really heavy," Smith said. "He must have weighed at least 200 pounds, with all his equipment. Me and three other guys picked him up and we carried him to the street. I got so much blood on me."

One witness described the pilot as being very apologetic.

"The pilot said, 'I'm sorry for destroying your house,' and I just bent down and I touched him and I was like 'it's okay, it really - are you okay?' and he was like 'I think I am.'"

Former Navy SEAL Patrick McAleenan told Navy Times he was a block away from the crash and believed the pilots ejected at the last second in an attempt to avoid hitting a school.

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