IMPERIAL, Calif. – A Marine jet crashed into a residential area in a Southern California desert community Wednesday, exploding and setting two homes on fire. The pilot ejected safely, and there was no immediate word of any injuries on the ground.
The Harrier AV-8B went down at 4:20 p.m. in Imperial, a city of about 15,000 near the U.S.-Mexico border about 90 miles east of San Diego. Witnesses described an explosion and thick plumes of smoke.
"It felt like a bomb was thrown in the backyard of the house," said Adriana Ramos, 45, whose home is less than a block from the crash scene. "The whole house moved."
Ramos fled with her 4-year-old granddaughter and 10-year-old daughter, who both cried at the sight outside.
Another witness, Jose Santos, was driving nearby and saw the plane flying "really low." Then "it just fell down," he said.
Santos sped toward the crash site. On the way, he saw the pilot who had parachuted to the ground.
"He didn't look like he was injured. He was rolling from side to side," and a police officer and others were helping him, Santos said.
At the crash site, there was chaos as people ran in every direction, he said. The two homes were on fire and it was unclear if anyone was inside.
The plane was from Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, said Cpl. Melissa Lee, a spokeswoman for Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. She had no details about what might have caused the accident.
Local police and fire departments referred questions to the Marines, and fire and federal aviation officials did not immediately reply to messages.
This was the second crash in a month of a Harrier jet from the Yuma air base in Arizona. On May 9, a pilot was able to eject safely before his jet crashed in a remote desert area near the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona, south of Phoenix. No one was injured.