KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) — A U.S. Navy fighter jet crashed Wednesday off the coast of Key West, Florida, killing its two crew members. The F/A-18 Super Hornet was on approach to land at a naval air station around 4:30 p.m. when it crashed into shallow water about a mile (1.5 kilometers) east of the runway.
Both the pilot and weapons-system officer ejected and were rescued, but U.S. Naval Air Forces reported late Wednesday night that both had died. Their names are being withheld pending notification of next of kin. The cause of the crash is also under investigation.
Barbie Wilson, who lives near Naval Air Station Key West, said she saw the crash from her pickup while running an errand. “It looked like it was going to land on the runway and then the whole plane went sideways,” she said in a phone interview. “And then I saw fire and it dropped out of the sky.”
Wilson said her husband later told her he had heard two loud booms from their house nearby. She said the plane landed upside down in water that’s barely deep enough for a kayak. “It was just a matter of minutes, and there were rescue helicopters,” she said. “You can’t get to it by boat or car.”
Justin Duane Hults, who also lives near the base, said the roar of the jet’s engines sounded abnormal right before the crash. “They were coming in to land like they always do,” he said. “But (the engines) got real loud and then really quiet instead of (the roar) being long and drawn out.”
He said he later saw rescuers pull the crew from the water. The aircraft crew is based out of Naval Air Station Oceana, in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The Super Hornet is a twin-engine fighter jet that is larger than the single-seat F/A-18 Hornet.
President Donald Trump has tweeted his condolences, and Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Miami emailed his condolences to the victims’ families.