Virginia Beach residents were warned Friday to avoid the site of a Navy jet crash lest they come in contact with toxic materials sent swirling into the air upon impact. They were also warned to leave alone any debris they might find from the downed aircraft -- and to call 911 to report it.
Even as emergency responders were searching Friday afternoon for victims in the apartment buildings struck by the aircraft, investigators began trying to piece together the wreckage. A Navy official said the jet suffered "catastrophic engine failure" shortly after takeoff from Naval Air Station Oceana, causing the F/A-18 Hornet to drop out of the sky, as one witness described it.
The crash occurred around 12:30 p.m. Eastern time, and the two pilots aboard ejected safely. One of the pilots was reportedly found in a backyard, disoriented and still strapped to his seat. The crash sent up a plume of black smoke that could be seen for miles.
Breathing in that smoke, or the charred carbon fiber material from the F/A-18, could cause health problems, experts warned via local media. Such fears caused emergency responders to cordon off a residential area that went well beyond the apartment complex where the crash happened.
A shelter was being set up at Birdneck Elementary School, near the crash site off 24th Street east of Birdneck Road. The site is only a short distance from Naval Air Station Oceana, where the jet was stationed.
So far, no deaths have been reported. Six people, including the jet's two crew members, were taken to a local hospital for treatment. The extent of their injuries was unknown, though they didn't appear critical, according to media reports. At least one person was treated for smoke inhalation.
Local television station WTKR, which was carrying a live news feed from the scene, had become information central for residents wondering when they could return to the area.
Anchors warned residents not to touch -- or in any way tamper with -- any jet debris they might find. Instead, they were asked to immediately report it to 911 so investigators could retrieve it as part of their probe.
WTKR had footage of a serviceman standing by the pilot's seat that was disovered in the backyard, guarding it until it could be retrieved by investigators.