RALEIGH, N.C. – Four Navy aviators ejected from two fighter jets "at a high rate of speed" after their aircraft got into trouble in the air and plunged into the Atlantic Ocean off the North Carolina coast, one of the rescuers 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" that happened during a training exercise, said Lt. Cmdr. Tiffani Walker, a spokeswoman for Naval Air Force Atlantic. Walker did not have any further details.
The four crew members suffered only minor injuries.
"In my opinion, the guys got pretty lucky," Derick Ansley, an aviation survival technician with the Coast Guard who helped rescue two of the aviators, told WTKR-TV. "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 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.
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.
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," Lt. Cmdr. Krystyn Pecora, a spokeswoman for the Coast Guard, told reporters.
A safety investigation will be carried out to determine the cause of the accident, Navy spokesman Ensign Mark Rockwellpate said.
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 are not currently assigned to an aircraft carrier, Walker said. The crew is part of Strike Fighter Squadron 211, based in Virginia Beach.
Earlier Thursday, the Coast Guard had said the two aircraft collided in the air before crashing. Navy officials said they are still conducting their investigation and do not know whether the planes collided.
Richer reported from Richmond, Virginia.