Local News

Amateur photos may help Navy find crash cause

Posted April 7, 2012

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— Investigators say it could take months to determine what brought a Navy F18 Hornet fighter jet plummeting into a Virginia Beach apartment complex demolishing sections of some buildings and engulfing others in flames.

More than 40 apartments were destroyed and 60 people displaced, but amazingly no one died in the fireball that resulted when the plane malfunctioned over Virginia's most populated city. Both men on board the two-seat plane, pilots from nearby Naval Air Station Oceana, ejected just before impact.

Witnesses said they saw fuel being dumped from the jet before it went down, and fuel was found on buildings and vehicles in the area. It wasn't clear if the fuel dump was because of a malfunction or an intentional maneuver by the pilots, said Capt. Mark Weisgerber with U.S. Fleet Forces Command.

The Navy expects residents of the densely-populated area just 10 miles from Oceana to play a part in the investigation. Their photographs and videos could offer the key.

As the plane went down, gawkers flocked to the scene, cell phones in hand, and incredible images flooded the Internet.

Within moments of the crash, dramatic images of jet parts in flames and damaged apartments began showing up online -- most of them taken with camera phones by amateur photographers.

"There was a young kid who had them on his cell phone," said Bob Meekins, who lives near the crash site. "They were so clear. And they were used on the news within a couple of hours."

Tim Riley, spokesman for the Virginia Beach Fire Department, issued a request for cooperation. "Navy investigators have asked if there is any cell footage of the aircraft before it impacted the ground to contact them," Riley said.

"When I was watching the news just about half an hour after it happened, there were tons of pictures that that people had already sent in," said Nancy O'berry.

She came back to the crash site Saturday to try and get more photos with her phone.

Doug Loucka spent Saturday morning trying to get a good angle from outside the perimeter of yellow tape. "I can snap, snap, snap, snap snap. Just by the process of taking a hundred pictures, one of them's got to be good," he said.

He hoped his photos would help friends, family and the world better understand what happened.

Military officials want the same thing, and asked that anyone with pictures or video of the plane going down contact them.

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