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The pilot of an F/A-18E Super Hornet from Strike Fighter Squadron 143 is taken from a Navy helicopter to Norfolk Sentara General Hospital on Wednesday in Norfolk, Va. The pilot remained in critical condition as of Thursday morning, a Navy spokesman said. (Steve Earley/The Virginian-Pilot via AP)
A Navy fighter jet crashed Wednesday in Atlantic waters off Virginia and the lone pilot was in critical condition after he ejected and was rescued, the Navy said.
Cmdr. Mike Kafka, a spokesman for Naval Air Force Atlantic, said the single-seat F/A-18E Super Hornet crashed at 2:35 p.m. about 45 miles off Virginia Beach. The pilot remained in critical condition as of Thursday morning, Kafka told Navy Times.
The pilot ejected and a life raft deployed, according to a Navy statement. The pilot was initially recovered by a fishing vessel — the Joyce D, which was about two miles from the crash site — and was then picked up by a Navy MH-60 Sea Hawk helicopter and flown to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. The hospital is the area’s only Level I Trauma Center.
The pilot was conscious when he was recovered, Navy officials told 13News Now, the local ABC affiliate.
The captain of the Joyce D, Brian Daniels, faxed a message to the TV station describing the rescue, saying in part: “We tried to throw a [life ring and] rope to him but he couldn't reach for it. ... The whole time he was cryin out he couldnt breathe [and] help me.”
The vessel’s crew recovered the pilot using a life preserver and waited for rescuers, according to the report.
Kafka said the pilot was conscious while being flown to the hospital, but he gave no other details about the crash or why he was in critical condition. The pilot’s name hasn’t been released.
The jet was one of two on the training mission, and the pilot of the other plane helped pinpoint the downed pilot’s location. It wasn’t immediately clear how the fishing vessel found the pilot, but Kafka said it arrived within 10 minutes of the crash.
The single-seat jet is assigned to the “Pukin’ Dogs” of Strike Fighter Squadron 143, based out of Naval Air Station Oceana. The squadron is part of Carrier Air Wing 7, which returned to Virginia last summer following a deployment aboard the aircraft carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower to Europe and the Middle East.
The crash comes a week after a fatal helicopter crash in the same region; three crew members died and two were injured when an MH-53E Sea Dragon entered the water during a training exercise.
A memorial service is planned Friday for the helicopter crash victims at Naval Station Norfolk, where the helicopter’s squadron is based.
The Navy is investigating both crashes.