April 6, 2012 -- A Navy training jet that crashed into an apartment building in Virginia Beach, Va., shortly after takeoff this afternoon suffered a mechanical malfunction, the Navy said.
The crash sent two pilots and five people on the ground to the hospital. All but one of the pilots have been released.
The pilots, a student and an instructor, ejected from the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet prior to the crash at 12:05 p.m. and were taken to the hospital. One was is in fair condition, while the other was in good condition, according to the hospital.
There was a massive fuel leak on takeoff, and 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 crew began dumping fuel by pumping it over the side to keep the plane light enough to fly.
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 crash started a fire at the Mayfair Mews apartment complex, according to ABC News affiliate WVEC. Some 40 units were destroyed or damaged in the fire. The five people who were on the ground near the crash were taken to Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital.
"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.'"
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."
Patrick Kavanaugh, who retired from a rescue squad, told the AP he opened up his sliding glass door and saw one of the pilots, whom he described as "a young boy" who was very apologetic, on the ground.
"The poor guy was in shock," Kavanaugh said. "I checked for broken bones and opened wounds."
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.
The apartment complex is about three miles from the landing strip at Oceana Naval Station and, according to Google Maps, there are several schools within a two-mile radius of the crash site, including one elementary school a half mile away.
"We have planned for this," Virginia Beach Fire Department Battalion Chief Tim Riley told WVEC. "We've done two mishap drills in the past two years and, unfortunately, today it has come to fruition."
The aircraft was part of the Strike Fighter Squadron 106, which is a training squadron for student pilots. The Navy said the student pilot was in the front seat and an experienced instructor was in the back.
"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.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell offered additional resources to the Virginia Beach community.
"I have spoken to Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms several times and informed him that all commonwealth resources are available to him as the community responds to this breaking situation," he said in a statement. "We are monitoring events carefully as they unfold and State Police resources are now on the scene. Our fervent prayer is that no one was injured or killed in this accident."