Both pilots safely ejected from the F-18 before it crashed in Virginia Beach, a tourist resort south of Washington DC, and no deaths were reported on the ground despite the scale of the inferno.
The aircraft destroyed at least two buildings and damaged several others before it came to rest in a courtyard, where its twin engines remained visible through the thick smoke and flame.
The jet was on a training flight and was flown by a student pilot with an experienced instructor in the rear seat, a Navy spokesman said. Moments after take off it suffered a “catastrophic technical malfunction” and went down in the Mayfair Mews complex.
At least nine people were taken to hospital but all with minor injuries. Mayor Will Sessoms said that an initial search of the damaged buildings had not discovered any bodies.
One witness told CNN: “I saw this huge plume black smoke and as we came up on the scene there were fireballs and ambulances coming from everywhere.
“Through the smoke you could see the end on the plane just sitting in the courtyard and buildings starting to collapse.”
One pilot was found by residents at the scene still strapped into his ejector seat, suggesting that he remained at the controls of the F-18 until the last possible moment before bailing out.
Pat Kavanugh, a retired rescue worker who was the among first to reach the stranded aviator, said: “He apologised very much for hitting out complex and I told him: ‘Don’t worry about it, everything’s going to be fine’.
“I checked him over, did a body survey, he was in shock, still strapped to his seat so we picked him up, dragged him to the other side of the parking lot away from the fire.”
The US Navy confirmed that the aircraft belonged to the VFA-106 strike fighter squadron based at the Oceana Naval Air Station, a base around two miles from the scene.
Pilots are trained to try to move away from populated areas if their aircraft is going down and it is believed the crew were trying to reach the ocean in the moments before they hit the ground.
Bob McDonnell, the governor of Virginia, said: “Our fervent prayer is that no one was injured or killed in this accident.”http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/9190923/US-Navy-F-18-jet-crashes-into-Virginia-apartment-building.html?utm_source=dlvr.it&u