A Navy jet fighter crashed nose-first Tuesday on a ranch northeast of Lake Okeechobee. Authorities said it didn't appear the pilot survived.
"Eyewitnesses say they never saw an ejection, they never saw a parachute," St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara told CBS Radio News. "One eyewitness that was about a mile-and-a-half from the actual crash site said he heard two sonic booms and then the ground shook."
The crash occurred about 10:30 a.m. on the V Bar 2 Ranch a few miles east of the Okeechobee County line north of State Road 70. The crash site is about 25 miles west of Fort Pierce.
The Oceana Naval Air Station at Virginia Beach, Va., said a F/A-18C jet fighter was on a routine training mission when it was reported missing in South Florida.
The single-seater Hornet was assigned to Oceana's Strike Fighter Squadron 106, but the Navy said it hadn't yet confirmed that the wrecked plane was the one that was missing.
The aircraft was believed to be headed to Key West, said Lt. Cmdr. Dawn Cutler, a Navy spokeswoman in Washington.
County Fire District spokesman Capt. Tom Whitley said witnesses reported seeing the aircraft "coming nose down from the sky."
Large pieces of wreckage lay in a crater 15 feet deep and 20 feet wide, that quickly filed with water, Whitley said. Smaller pieces of the plane were scattered in a half-mile circle around the wreck.
"The biggest piece we have is probably the size of your hand," said Mascara. "What we have is probably a 20-square foot indentation, hole, crater, whatever you want to call it. It is filled with water, as well as a bunch of metal debris."
The wreckage burned some nearby trees but was smoldering when crews arrived shortly after the crash and wasn't in flames, he said.
The F/A-18C is the standard Navy and Marine Corps fighter and also is flown by the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration team.
The Hornet, which also comes in a two-seat version, was used extensively in strikes against Iraq during the Gulf War.
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