US Navy F-18 crashes in residential Virginia

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A US Navy F-18 jet has crashed shortly after take off in a residential area near Virginia Beach, Virginia.

A navy spokesman told the BBC that the plane went down just before 12:08 (16:08 GMT) and two crew members ejected safely.

The plane hit an apartment building, with photos showing flames and black smoke rising from behind houses.

Both pilots and several other people, including a firefighter, are being treated for injuries.

Six of the seven people admitted to hospital have already been released.

No fatalities have been reported, but officials say they have not accounted for all the residents in the apartment buildings.

The cause of the crash is not yet known.

The two pilots were a student and an instructor.

Pentagon spokesman George Littleused Twitterto say Defence Secretary Leon Panetta was being kept informed: "#SecDef is closely monitoring F-18 crash in Virginia Beach; concerned about potential loss of life and injuries."

'What could have been'

The plane was based at the nearby Oceana naval air station where it was assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 106, the Navy said.

Local residents quickly began distributing pictures of burning buildings through social media websites, but officials said the blaze was brought under control.

Emergency officials say some 40 apartments were damaged or destroyed in the crash.

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell said: "We are taking all possible steps at the state level to provide immediate resources and assistance to those impacted by the crash. Our fervent prayer is that no-one was injured or killed in this accident."

Witnesses told local media that just before the crash they saw the plane empty its fuel tank.

Bruce Nedelka, a Virginia Beach emergency official said that fuel was found on buildings and vehicles in the area.

"By doing so, he [the pilot] mitigated what could have been an absolute massive, massive fireball and fire," Mr Nedelka told the Associated Press.

"With all of that jet fuel dumped, it was much less than what it could have been."

However, Navy spokesman Captain Mark Weisgerber told reporters that the dumping of jet fuel was "one of the indications that there was a mechanical malfunction".

'Burst into flames'

One local resident, Robbie Miller, told BBC World: "I was at home in my kitchen when I heard a big boom.

"I walked outside and saw thick black smoke billowing everywhere. You could see the flames from my apartment.

There were then six loud explosions that sounded like gas explosions. It was all very scary."

Joanie Coleman said she saw the plane hit and saw the "whole backyard" on fire.

"I've lived here for 14 years and I knew something like this was going to happen," she told a local station.

Pat Kavanaugh told CNN he found one of the ejected pilots in the wreckage.

The pilot was still strapped in his seat with a parachute attached and Mr Kavanuagh and others moved the pilot away from the flames.

He said the pilot told him, "I'm so sorry I crashed into your building."

A nearby highway, Interstate 264, has been closed in both directions, local officials said.

Virginia Beach is a resort city located on the southern coastline of the mid-Atlantic state of Virginia.

The city is home to about 438,000 people and several US military bases.

"Living under a flight path, you don't realise that it can actually be quite dangerous. These jets fly low over our heads all the time doing their training," Robbie Miller told the BBC.

"Seventy per cent of the building that the jet hit is destroyed. It feel quite lucky, when I think it could easily have been me."