Military officials said the pilot and the weapons systems officer ejected safely from the F-15E Strike Eagle before it went down around 5 p.m. in a wooded area near Strickland Crossroads Road in Four Oaks. The jet was assigned to the 4th Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.
Johnston County sheriff Steve Bizzell said one flier's parachute snagged in a tree about 30 feet off the ground before he was rescued about an hour after the crash.
"We're just grateful that our people are safe, and they get to go home to their families," said Staff Sgt. Bryan Bouchard, a 4th Fighter Wing spokesman who reported to the scene Wednesday evening.
Air Force emergency response teams were sent to the scene, about 25 miles west of the base. A second Air Force jet circled over the crash scene.
Bizzell said the jet crashed in a heavily forested area away from any homes or other structures. The plane caught fire after it went down, sending a thick plume of black smoke into the sky above the forest.
Before putting out the fire, firefighters were warned to take special precautions against the fumes, said Jason Barbour, an emergency operations dispatcher.
On the ground, there were no reports of any injuries or damage to the surrounding area.
Bizzell cautioned residents and motorists to stay away from the area where the plane went down, adding that roadblocks had been set up on nearby roads. Bouchard asked anyone who comes across crash debris to contact local law enforcement.
Bouchard also said there did not appear to be any danger from fumes to the public.
"We have individuals that are investigating the crash site," he said. "As far as I know, there has been no call for anything precautionary in that matter."
One witness in the area said she was sitting outside with her mother when she noticed the plane was in a downward spiral. Another witness commented about how loud the crash was. There also reportedly was a strong smell of fuel.
David Massengill was clearing brush when he witnessed the plane falling.
"All of a sudden, we heard a loud noise," Massengill said. "I kept looking up in the sky to see this plane that was coming. I couldn't never see anything, then all of a sudden it fell down through the clouds. It just went in a spiral motion, and we saw it hit the ground."
Samuel Grissom, 13, was helping his father, Bryan, put a roof on his uncle's house when they saw the plane going down.
"I saw it was coming down from the clouds, and it was doing, like, 25 spirals," Samuel said. "Then all of a sudden, it justwent behind the trees. And there was an explosion, black smoke everywhere."
About 40 military officials were on the scene Wednesday night. Emergency personnel reportedly had a difficult time reaching the crash site because of the thick foliage and ground that was soggy from days of rain.
The crash marked the first time an Air Force jet from Seymour Johnson has crashed in North Carolina during training in almost six years.
The Air Force says the F-15E Strike Eagle is packed with electronics systems that give the jet the capability tofight at low altitude and perform its primary duty as anair-to-ground attack aircraft. It also has the capability to fight other aircraft on its way to a target.
The aircraft has a top speed of two-and-half times the speed of sound. Since entering service in the 1970s, the Strike Eagle has never been shot down by an enemy plane.
The F-15 is armed with a variety of missiles, depending on themission. The F-15E model also has an internally mounted 20millimeter gun that can carry up to 500 rounds.
The aircraft carries a crew of two -- a pilot and a weapons system manager. Each of the fighter jets costs $31.5 million.
More than 1,000 members of the 4,500-member 4th Fighter Wing, which fly the F-15Es, were deployed to the Middle East this year and flew numerous bombing sorties on targets in Iraq before beginning to return home in April.
It was unknown Wednesday whether the jet or crew in Wednesday's crash was deployed in Iraq.
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