Navy: ‘Miracle’ nobody died in Virginia jet crash

CNN affiliates WTKR, WAVY and WVEC have more on the story.

Story highlights

NEW: An off-duty Coast Guard member assisted in the wake of the crash

All are accounted for after the fighter jet smashes into apartments

At least seven people, including two pilots, were injured

All have been released from the hospital and the crash is under investigation

Virginia Beach, Virginia CNN  — 

A U.S. Navy admiral said Saturday that the fiery crash of a fighter jet into apartment buildings in the military community of Virginia Beach matches his definition of a miracle.

No one was killed and everyone was accounted for one day after the accident.

“I don’t speak for anybody’s religious beliefs, but the mayor and I both agreed that if you want to define a miracle, what happened here yesterday meets that definition for me,” Adm. John Harvey, the four-star head of the U.S. Fleet Forces Command, told reporters.

He said the Navy is investigating the crash, but noted it will take weeks to determine exactly what happened.

“We will not rush to judgment. We will get everything down. We will examine it carefully,” he said. “We’ll fix whatever went wrong.”

A special victims fund is available to assist those whose homes or possessions were damaged or destroyed. More than two dozen people spent the night at a temporary shelter.

At least seven people, including two pilots who ejected safely, were injured in the crash. All were released from the hospital as of Saturday, said Harvey, and are in “good shape.”

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell thanked those who acted in an hour of need.

“This amazing news follows the countless acts of bravery and selflessness that we witnessed yesterday,” he said in a statement.

He said the crash response highlighted the character of the Navy, safety officials and the people of Virginia.

“We saw neighbors rushing to the assistance of neighbors, the Navy pilots waiting until the very last second to eject, citizens pulling the pilots to safety and treating them, and a successful and efficient coordinated response from first responders, the city and others,” McDonnell said. “It was the very best of Virginia on display.”

Among those who sprung into action was an off-duty Coast Guard member. Petty Officer 2nd Class Nick Beane was at a friend’s house having lunch when the jet went down, according to a statement from the Coast Guard.

“My training kicked in,” Beane said. “I saw the fire and explosion, and I knew I had to help.”

Petty Officer 2nd Class Nick Beane, who was off duty, helped carry a pilot to safety. "My training kicked in," he said.

He ran to nearby buildings and knocked on doors to make sure everyone was outside. He then saw one of the pilots, lying on the ground near flames.

With the help of a civilian, they cut the pilot loose from his parachute and carried him to safety, the Coast Guard said.

“He kept asking if everybody else was okay,” Beane said. “He asked about the people on the ground and the other pilot. His own safety was the last thing on his mind.”

The fighter jet experienced a “catastrophic mechanical malfunction” during takeoff Friday, raining jet fuel over Virginia Beach before plunging to the ground, damaging five apartment buildings, according to residents and Navy officials.

The jet carried a student pilot in the front seat and an experienced instructor behind him, and the leakage of jet fuel was “one of the indications that there was a mechanical malfunction,” Navy Capt. Mark Weisgerber told reporters.

The two-seat F/A-18 jet landed eerily upright in flames in a courtyard surrounded by the five apartment buildings that were suddenly set afire.

iReport: Watch and hear jet fuel burning

Once the buildings were doused with water and the courtyard was coated with a foam, rescue crews began a detailed search through the charred hulks to look for any residents injured or killed, a fire official said.

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The two pilots, a Virginia Beach police officer, an EMS volunteer and three other people were treated for injuries at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital.

The jet, which was not carrying live ordnance, was part of a training squadron at Naval Air Station Oceana, the Navy and Federal Aviation Administration said. It crashed 2.2 miles from the runway, a senior Defense Department official told CNN.

Eyewitnesses and residents described their community – so accustomed to military planes taking off near their homes – suddenly taking a surreal turn for the worse when the jet fell out of the sky and spewed its fuel, a possible maneuver to minimize the inevitable fire upon crashing.

One ejection seat shell ripped through an oak tree and crashed into a condo fence, and the other seat shell landed next door, suggesting that the two Navy pilots ejected at a low altitude, said resident Keith Gutkowski.

Colby Smith told CNN affiliate WVEX that he was in his bathroom when he felt his “whole house shaking.” Then he looked out his bedroom window and “saw nothing but red, just red and orange flashing. And just a crackling noise. I was like, ‘What is that?’ ” he said.

Smith said he ran outside, saw a friend and eventually spotted a pilot who was “laying there” and bleeding. He said he and several others then picked up the pilot and carried him to safety.

CNN’s Michael Martinez, Barbara Starr, Greg Botelho, Mike Ahlers and Sandra Endo contributed to this report.