The U.S. Navy late tonight will release the names of the two aviators who were killed Wednesday when the F/A-18F Super Hornet they were in crashed into shallow water at Naval Air Station Key West.
The aviators were flying near Key West when the two-seat jet crashed around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. Both were recovered by helicopter about one mile east of the runway and taken to the Lower Keys Medical Center, said Cmdr. Dave Hecht, public affairs officer for Naval Air Force Atlantic.
On Thursday, Hecht said he will release the names at 10 p.m. tonight, citing a policy that requires the Navy wait 24 hours after notifying the next of kin.
The F/A-18F is a dual-seated aircraft assigned to the “Black Lions” of Strike Fighter Squadron Two One Three, based at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia and was conducting a training flight at the time.
A witness said it looked like the plane experienced some sort of explosion in the air.
“I saw the fire and then it just dropped,” said Barbie Wilson, who lives nearby and was driving when she said saw the plane turn sideways and then burst into flames.
But the cause of the mishap is currently under investigation and it will take time for the Navy to determine what happened.
“We are weeks if not months away from knowing that,” Hecht said.
One veteran military pilot said a preliminary report could be issued in the next few days, but it will likely include no new details.
“It will be public, but it will be only acknowledging the loss of the airplane and the two lives,” said Randy Reep, an attorney in Jacksonville who flies an F-15 jet for the Air Force’s Air National Guard. “The aviation investigation process is a slow, methodical process because you don’t want to draw false conclusions.”
Reep, who has flown the F-15 — which he said is similar to the Super Hornet — in and out of Key West, said such crashes are rare.
“Obviously on approach or on takeoff is when you’re closest to the ground and that’s when it’s most dangerous,” he said. “This is a surprising accident.”
Reep said an F-18 having two aviators on board and two engines usually helps defuse an emergency.
“Even the loss of one engine should not result in the loss of a plane or the lives of two crew members,” he said.
Meanwhile, Naval Air Station Key West Commanding Officer Capt. Bobby Baker Thursday issued a notice that crash site area off Boca Chica Field is restricted and off-limits to all civilians, boaters or other personal water craft as well as air craft.
“We’re asking the public not to boat near the area as the crash is under investigation by Navy and federal authorities,” Baker said. “Additionally, combat air training has resumed so it’s imperative civilian aircraft remain clear of military airspace.”