All civilians initially listed as missing after a US Navy fighter jet crashed into a Virginia apartment complex have been accounted for, officials said Saturday, though no all-clear has been given.
Virginia Beach Fire Department Captain Tim Riley told CNN that no bodies were found in the destroyed low-rise buildings and rescuers had suspended their search for victims from the ensuing inferno.
Firefighters had been combing through debris to look for three people listed earlier as missing but rescue crews used a checklist of occupants and accounted for all residents of five flattened buildings, Riley said.
The possibility of unaccounted for fatalities remains, however, as unlisted guests may have been staying in the apartment complex, he added.
The two crew members ejected safely from the F/A-18 Hornet that hit a populated area in the east coast tourist resort of Virginia Beach.
US Navy Captain Mark Weisgerber blamed a “catastrophic mechanical malfunction” for the crash.
The specifics of the mishap were still unknown, Weisgerber said, adding that it resulted in the “forced ejection” of the crew — a local student pilot in the front seat and an experienced instructor in the back.
Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell said he was hoping to confirm a “Good Friday miracle,” with no loss of life, but no such official announcement has yet been made.
The city’s mayor William Sessoms, who praised local volunteers who helped in the aftermath of the accident, said nine people had sustained non-life threatening injuries, including the pilots.
“It’s going to take weeks,” of “painstaking” work by the navy to piece together what caused the crash, US Fleet Forces Command chief Admiral John Harvey said, adding that the flight data recorder has not yet been recovered.
“The fact that we do have the air crew, that’s a critical part,” he said.
“I’m very confident that we’ll get a good breakdown of what happened. We will not rush to judgment.”
Witnesses said the plane came down suddenly and the spilling of jet fuel probably exacerbated the flames. It was not yet clear whether the pilots had intentionally dumped the fuel before the plane crashed.
The F-18 jet was assigned to Naval Air Station Oceana. The crash took place in an area known as Hampton Roads that is home to many US military facilities, including the world’s largest naval base, Naval Station Norfolk.
Oceana, which is a vast complex with more than seven miles (10 kilometers) of runways, is manned by 14,600 military personnel and home to 19 fighter squadrons.
It will shut down for the remainder of the weekend and will resume flight operations on Monday, Naval Air Force Atlantic announced.