Virginia Beach jet crash probe starts in earnest

Chandler Blake Ferguson was driving on I-284 when he witnessed the plane crashing.
Chandler Blake Ferguson

(CBS News) VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - An apartment complex in a peaceful neighborhood suddenly erupted in flames Friday when a Navy fighter jet slammed into it.

About 40 apartments were destroyed or damaged and seven people were injured, including the two Navy pilots. Three people who were unaccounted for have been found and are said to be OK. Miraculously, no deaths have been reported.

Firefighters were finishing up their search of the burned out ruins of apartments, looking for possible victims.

The Navy was just beginning its investigation Saturday to find out why a high performance fighter jet slammed into a populated area.

The F/A-18 rammed into the apartments just minutes after taking off from nearby Oceana Naval Air Station.

Remnants of the fighter jets engines landed in the courtyard of the complex.

Navy jet crashes into Virginia Beach apartments

The two pilots, who ejected just before the plane went down, were found close to the crash site.

On "CBS This Morning: Saturday," two people who saw it all unfold described the scene to co-host Rebecca Jarvis. To see the interview, click on the video below:

One of the pilots had to be freed from his ejector seat by neighborhood resident Nick Bean, who said, "He was bleeding a little bit and he still had his seat attached to him, so I pulled my knife out and cut him loose from his chair and dragged him out and got him as far away as I could."

Neighbors say one pilot's parachute snagged on a building near Pat Kavanaugh's back porch.

""He apologized very much for hitting our complex," Kavanaugh recalls, "and I told him, 'Don't worry about it, everything is going to be fine. Let's just get you outta here."

Navy sources say the plane suffered a catastrophic mechanical failure just after takeoff and began dumping fuel.

Chandler Blake Ferguson says he saw smoke and fuel pouring from the back of the plane.

Witnesses say it was obvious the pilots had little or no control.

"It just looked basically like he dropped out of the sky, pretty much," says Daniel Kavanaugh. "The front end of the plane started going down and then, boom - a huge black cloud of smoke."

"We heard the plane flying," one resident says, "and then, all of sudden, there was this terrible loud crash and everything shook."

Military sources say the pilot in the front seat of the fighter was experienced but was training on the F/A-18.The other pilot, in the back seat, was a certified military trainer.

To see Bob Orr's report, click on the video in the player above.