The Navy has announced the names of the two aviators, the pilot and a weapon systems officer, who were killed Wednesday when their F/A-18F Super Hornet fighter jet crashed into the Truman Harbor waters near Naval Air Station Key West on Boca Chica Key, the Navy said.
The crash occurred at 4:30 p.m. one mile east of the runway on the island home to NAS Key West, one blanketed by mangroves and salt marshes and just a couple of miles from central Key West.
The Navy tweeted and issued statements with the first official account provided in a tweet at around 7 p.m. and later updates from the Navy at 9 and 10 p.m.
The pilot and weapons system officer were ejected from the aircraft that witnesses said appeared to catch fire while in the air.
Rescue crews recovered the victims and they were transported to the Lower Keys Medical Center. But at around 10 p.m. Wednesday night, U.S. Naval Air Forces tweeted that both had died. Per Navy policy, their names are being withheld pending notification of next of kin.
Cmdr. Dave Hecht, public affairs officer for Naval Air Force Atlantic, said the jet, stationed at NAS Oceana in Virginia Beach, was on final approach to Boca Chica Field. The aviators were conducting a training flight, the Navy said.
Witness Barbie Wilson who lives in Key West said she saw “fire and then it just dropped” from the sky indicating there may have been some type of explosion mid-air. Wilson told the Florida Keys News she saw the jet “turn sideways and then burst into flames.”
“In the air, I saw fire.”
The F/A-18F is a dual-seated aircraft assigned to the “Black Lions” of Strike Fighter Squadron Two One Three (VFA-213).
The crash is under investigation by the Navy, but it’s been reported that the plane may have been in trouble.
Meanwhile, Trump was at Boeing talking deals on the F/A-18 fighter jets.
Bloomberg reported Trump told Boeing to give the government a “good price” for its fighter jets “otherwise, we’re going to buy them from someone else.”
Naval Air Station Key West is a training base for air-to-air combat fighter aircraft of all military services. Key West is less than 18 feet above sea level and the region provides singular views of the sky and horizon. The Navy described the base as having “perfect flying weather year round and unparalleled aerial ranges that offer aircrew training within minutes after takeoff.”
The Navy said NAS Key West is equipped with a sophisticated Tactical Combat Training System (TCTS), similar to the one depicted in the popular movie “Top Gun,” which tracks and records aerial maneuvers. In addition, NAS Key West is the host facility for numerous tenant activities, including Joint Interagency Task Force South, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Army Special Forces Underwater Training School to name a few.
“The best Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen in the world are to be found at NAS Key West and its tenant commands. Each of them work diligently daily to ensure that we are responsible stewards of our human, fiscal, material and environmental resources.”