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6 Apr, 2012 17:03

F-18 jet crashes into apartments in Virginia next to elementary school (VIDEO)

Both pilots safely ejected from the plane that moments later crashed into a residential area in Virginia Beach.

Seven people have been reported injured in the incident. US Navy Captain Mark Weisgerber blamed a "catastrophic mechanical malfunction" for the crash.Commander Rosi from the US Navy said the aircrew of the plane, which belonged to the VFA-106 strike fighter squadron  based in Oceana, have been taken to a nearby hospital. They, as well as five other people admitted to local hospitals are not in life-threatening condition.Witnesses said two apartment buildings near the crash site were on fire, and rescue workers searched for potential casualties. Military police was also on site. Interstate 264 has been closed down. Thick black smoke could be seen rising from the scene.Officials say three people remain unaccounted for as rescue workers searched the damaged apartment complex.One of the first people on the scene told CBS news that he helped move one of the pilots to a safe distance from the blaze. According to the witness, the pilot was conscious and apologized profusely for crashing into the apartment complex. Reports also suggest at least one apartment building has burnt down completely. Overall, at least 5 buildings and 20 apartment units have been affected by the fire. Several people have also claimed the fighter jet was seen dumping fuel just before the crash, in order  to avoid an explosion upon impact.Fire officials say Birdneck Elementary School will open as shelter for displaced residents following the crash.F-18 jets are used by the military for combat operations as well as for aerial displays. But this crash, unfortunately, is not an isolated incident for the US Navy Force fighter jets. The most recent crash involving an F-18 Hornet took place almost exactly one year ago, when 2 crew members died after the jet collapsed moments after takeoff in central California. Another F-18 crashed into a residential area in San Diego in 2008, killing four people on the ground and destroying a number of houses. In 2011, an F-16 fighter-bomber crashed on landing at an air base in southern Italy after completing a mission in Libya. An F-15 jet also crashed while on a mission in Libya that same year.