6 Years After Navy Jet Crashed into Apartments, Memories Still Vivid

Capt. Bob Geis, then the commanding officer of Naval Air Station Oceana, is interviewed by members of the Hampton Roads media during the Navy's distribution of emergency funds to residents of the Mayfair Mews Apartments who were affected by the April 6, 2012 crash of an F/A-18D Hornet, April 9, 2012. (U.S. Navy photo/Antonio Turretto Ramos)
Capt. Bob Geis, then the commanding officer of Naval Air Station Oceana, is interviewed by members of the Hampton Roads media during the Navy's distribution of emergency funds to residents of the Mayfair Mews Apartments who were affected by the April 6, 2012 crash of an F/A-18D Hornet, April 9, 2012. (U.S. Navy photo/Antonio Turretto Ramos)

VIRGINIA BEACH -- When Ted Laffkas heard the news Wednesday that an F-16 jet had crashed at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, his mind leapt backward six years.

Around noon on April 6, 2012, Laffkas was leaving his home on 24th Street, close to Birdneck Road, to head for the gym when he saw two men parachuting downward.

At first, the sight didn't faze him. After all, Naval Air Station Oceana, the East Coast's master jet base, was right nearby. But he quickly realized something was wrong; the pair seemed to be descending too fast.

Soon, plumes of black smoke began to fill the air.

An F/A-18D Hornet had just plunged into the Mayfair Mews apartment complex shortly after takeoff.

Within seconds, Laffkas was jumping over a fence, moving toward the crash site, he told The Pilot later that day. He was one of the first people on the scene.

The Navy pilot was lying on the ground next to a burning apartment building when Laffkas spotted him. He was still attached to part of his ejection seat. Cords from his parachute were tangled around him.

About the same time that Laffkas reached the pilot, so did Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Nick Beane. He had a knife and cut the pilot free.

Laffkas and Beane carried him to a safer spot until paramedics arrived. An instructor who also ejected survived. The Navy did not release their names and concluded that the jet experienced double engine failure, an "extraordinarily unusual" occurrence.

About 100 people lived in the apartment complex off Fleming Drive at that time.

Amazingly, no one died.

Some residents were relocated. For weeks, cleanup crews took away debris. About 70 dump trucks removed contaminated soil, according to the Fire Department. The remaining residents returned to their apartments a month later.

Mayfair Mews, built in the 1960s, was razed in 2016.

Today, Ryan Homes is building Birdneck Crossing -- dozens of townhouses -- on the land.

Laffkas said he drove by it recently and was surprised to see the property turning over a new leaf after what had happened there.

"That was a crazy day six years ago," he said.

This article is written by Stacy Parker from The Virginian-Pilot and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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