The Navy lost an F-14 jet fighter, and possibly one of the two crew members, when the aircraft crashed into the Atlantic off the North Carolina coast late Thursday afternoon.
It was the first major military crash since a recent string of six in seven days that convinced the Pentagon to call a one-day halt to training flights so fliers could review safety procedures. Those reviews took place over a five-day period that ended last week.
Thursday’s crash took place at about 4 p.m. in an area of the Atlantic roughly 50 miles east of Elizabeth City, N.C., said Mike Maus, a spokesman for the Atlantic Fleet Naval Air Force in Norfolk. The plane was training with another aircraft when it went down, Maus said.
One crew member, the jet’s radar intercept officer, was rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter and taken to the base clinic at Oceana. His condition is good, Maus said. The pilot remains missing. Both fliers’ names are being withheld until the status of the pilot becomes clear.
The cause of the crash is unknown, and few details of the accident were available Thursday night.
Both crew members were able to escape the aircraft before it struck the water by firing their jet-powered ejection seats, Maus said.
The F-14 was assigned to a training squadron at Oceana Naval Air Station. That squadron, VF-101, completed its mandatory day of training Sept. 18. The squadron qualifies F-14 pilots and radar intercept officers to fly the $40 million jet on and off aircraft carriers.
Rescuers still were searching late Thursday for the pilot. Assisting in the search were a Coast Guard C-130 search plane and an HH-60 helicopter; a Navy search-and-rescue helicopter out of Oceana; and three Navy ships - the Deyo, Austin and Tortuga - that were sailing in the vicinity when the crash occurred.
The search was to continue through the night, officials said.
At the time of the crash, visibility was good, with 4- to 5-foot seas, Maus said.
Navy officials didn’t know what time the Coast Guard helicopter arrived at the scene of the crash. Coast Guard officials referred all questions to the Navy. The three Navy ships were operating about 40 miles away from the accident when they learned of the accident, Maus said.
The crash was the first involving a jet stationed at the Virginia Beach base since a midair collision June 4 that involved two F-14s from the same squadron. No one was injured and the jets returned safely to Oceana, Naval Air Force spokesman Cmdr. Joe Gradisher said.
The crash comes two days after the Navy completed what one official called “its safest year ever.” One measure of Navy flight safety is the average number of crashes involving loss of life, the aircraft itself, or that caused more than $1 million damage to the aircraft. During the past fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, the Navy suffered 1.36 such crashes for every 100,000 flight hours, said Lt. Joe Walker of the Naval Air Force.