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All accounted for after Navy fighter jet crashes into apartments

By the CNN Wire Staff

VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia (CNN) — Residents who were missing after a Navy fighter jet crashed into apartment buildings in Virginia Beach were accounted for Saturday, but authorities have yet to give the “all clear” until they check under the wreckage, the fire department said. [MORE: Helicopter video from jet crash scene]

Rescue workers had been searching for three people who were missing. No one had been reported missing, but rescue crews used a checklist of occupants in the buildings in an effort to account for all residents, said Virginia Beach Fire Department Battalion Chief Tim Riley. [READ NOW: Virginia Beach mayor begs folks to stay away from crash]

At least seven others were injured. Only a pilot who was described as being in “good condition” remained at the Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital on Saturday.

More than two dozen people spent the night at the temporary shelter.

The fighter jet experienced a “catastrophic mechanical malfunction” during takeoff Friday, raining jet fuel over the military community of Virginia Beach before its fiery crash that damaged five apartment buildings, according to residents and Navy officials.

The jet carried a student pilot in the front seat and an experienced instructor behind him, and the leakage of jet fuel was “one of the indications that there was a mechanical malfunction,” Navy Capt. Mark Weisgerber told reporters.

The crash is under investigation, he said.

The two-seat F/A-18 jet landed eerily upright in flames in a courtyard surrounded by the five apartment buildings that were suddenly set afire.

Once the five apartment buildings were doused with water and the courtyard was coated with a foam, rescue crews began a grim, detailed search through the charred hulks to look for any residents injured or killed, Riley said.

The two pilots ejected safely, the Navy said.

Resident Pat Kavanaugh told CNN affiliate WTKR that he and others found one of them still strapped to his seat with cuts to his face. Kavanaugh said he was on his couch when he heard a loud boom and was startled to see a parachute hanging from the building. [BONUS: Pilot lands on man’s back porch; apologizes for crashing jet]

In shock, the pilot apologized for his jet crashing into the apartment complex, and residents pulled him safely away from the fiery crash zone, said Kavanaugh, a retired rescue worker.

The two pilots, a Virginia Beach police officer, an EMS volunteer and three other people were treated for injuries at Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital.

The jet, which was not carrying live ordnance, was part of a training squadron at Naval Air Station Oceana, the Navy and Federal Aviation Administration said. It crashed 2.2 miles from the runway, a senior Defense Department official told CNN.

Eyewitnesses and residents described their community — so accustomed to military planes taking off near their homes — suddenly taking a surreal turn for the worse when the jet fell out of the sky and spewed its fuel, a possible maneuver to minimize the inevitable fire upon crashing. [MORE: Woman talks about rescuing folks after jet crashes]

One ejection seat shell ripped through an oak tree and crashed into a condo fence, and the other seat shell landed next door, suggesting that the two Navy pilots ejected at a low altitude, said resident Keith Gutkowski.

Colby Smith told CNN affiliate WVEC that he was in his bathroom when he felt his “whole house shaking.” Then he looked out his bedroom window and “saw nothing but red, just red and orange flashing. And just a crackling noise. I was like, ‘What is that?’ ” he said.

Smith said he ran outside, saw a friend and eventually spotted a pilot who was “laying there” and bleeding. He said he and several others then picked up the pilot and carried him to safety.

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