Two Navy jet fighters crashed off the coast of North Carolina during a training mission Thursday, and their four crew members were airlifted to a hospital with minor injuries after being plucked out of the Atlantic Ocean by a commercial fishing vessel and Coast Guard rescuers, officials said.
The F/A-18 Super Hornet jet fighters, based in Virginia Beach, crashed about 10:40 a.m. off the coast of Cape Hatteras, following an "in-flight mishap," said Lt. Cmdr. Tiffani Walker, a spokeswoman for Naval Air Force Atlantic. Walker did not have any further details. Earlier Thursday, the Coast Guard had said the two aircraft collided in the air before crashing.
CLICK HERE to see a video from WTKR Fox43.com of an interview with the Coast Guard cred involved in the rescue.
Two of the aviators were rescued by the crew of the commercial fishing vessel Tammy, and the other two survivors were hoisted out of the water by a Coast Guard helicopter, the Coast Guard said in a statement. A second Coast Guard helicopter picked up the aviators from the fishing vessel and all four survivors were taken to Norfolk Sentara General Hospital.
The sea route is heavily traveled by ships entering and leaving Norfolk, one of the busiest cargo ports on the East Coast.
Derick Ansley, an aviation survival technician with the Coast Guard who helped rescue two of the downed aviators, told WTKR-TV that the men had some "dings and bruises" but were in good shape, considering the circumstances.
"In my opinion, the guys got pretty lucky," Ansley said. "Everything happened exactly the way it should have in that situation and somebody was looking over their shoulder when it was happening. For people to walk away from that is a pretty amazing thing," he said.
Claude Morrissey, another Coast Guard rescuer, told WTKR that the aviators ejected from the jet "at a high rate of speed." Ansley said some wreckage from one of the jets was still on the surface of the water when they got to the men.
The four aviators suffered minor injuries but are in "very high spirits," Lt. Cmdr. Krystyn Pecora told reporters. Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook said all were "alert and talking" when they were picked up. Videos taken by WAVY-TV show two aviators getting on stretchers as they exited the helicopter and were taken into the hospital. The other two walked into the hospital on their own, the videos show.
"We're happy to have brought everyone home safely today," Pecora said.
A safety investigation will be carried out to determine the cause of the accident, said Navy spokesman Ensign Mark Rockwellpate.
The F/A-18 Hornet is an all-weather fighter and attack aircraft that operates in tactical squadrons at stations around the world and from 10 aircraft carriers, the Navy says on its website. The Super Hornet, the newest model, has a longer range, aerial refueling capability and improved survivability and lethality, according to the website.
Each of the planes costs at least $57 million, the Navy says.
The jets that crashed Thursday were performing training exercises and are not currently assigned to an aircraft carrier, Walker said. The crew is part of Strike Fighter Squadron 211, based in Virginia Beach.
A rescue helicopter was dispatched from the Coast Guard's air station in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. The station's helicopters perform ocean search-and-rescue operations off North Carolina and Virginia as far east as Bermuda.