Two aviators die after Oceana-based fighter jet crashes near Key West

By Courtney Mabeus –  

Two Navy aviators from the Naval Air Station Oceana-based Strike Fighter Squadron 213 died Wednesday after their F/A-18 Super Hornet crashed off the coast of Florida, Naval Air Force Atlantic spokesman Cmdr. Dave Hecht said.

The fighter jet crashed about a mile off the coast around 4:30 p.m. as it was returning from a training mission, Hecht said. Both crew members ejected and were recovered from the water and taken by ambulance to Lower Keys Medical Center. Hecht did not know if the crew members, a pilot and a weapons systems officer, died at the scene or later.

The Navy said late Wednesday that it is withholding the aviators’ identities for 24 hours pending next-of-kin notification.

The jet flew out of Naval Air Station Key West, on Boca Chica Key. A detachment of the squadron, known as the Fighting Blacklions, is in Florida for training.

Barbie Wilson said she was returning to her home on the backside of the air station from running errands Wednesday when she saw the jet approaching. She stopped to watch, as she often does, when suddenly “the wings went vertical,” she said in a phone call Wednesday night.

“There was a fireball and it literally dropped out of the sky,” Wilson said.

Wilson said she called 911. She said it appeared the jet landed upside-down in shallow water near a mangrove and the fuel tank floated away.

The emergency response took less than five minutes, Wilson said.

The cause of the crash will be investigated, the Navy said.

VFA-213 deployed with the Norfolk-based George H.W. Bush carrier strike group in 2017.

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