Collateral Damage: F-18 Crash Could Hurt Base’s Future

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The crash of a Navy F-18D Hornet into an apartment complex in Virginia Beach, Virginia, could seal the fate of the Oceana Naval Air Station there. The Navy has been trying for more than a decade to build a practice jet airfield in North Carolina or Virginia to practice simulated carrier landings with Oceana-based aircraft. But local opposition was so fierce, the service put that plan on hold a year ago. The Good Friday crash will make it more difficult to resurrect the so-called outlying landing field, Navy officials say, which could doom Oceana’s future.

Navy officials suspect an unspecified mechanical problem downed the jet fighter shortly after takeoff from Oceana about 12:05 p.m. The student pilot in the front seat, and the experienced instructor pilot sitting behind, ejected and suffered minor injuries. Seven people on the ground suffered what officials said were non-life-threatening injuries.

Local residents have long feared such an accident as their homes and businesses crowded close to the air station. “It’s something I pray everyday that doesn’t happen,” Virginia Beach Major Will Sessoms told reporters following the crash. “But it has.” It also could increase opposition to building the outlying landing field in the region, which could end up making Oceana more vulnerable to closing.

After the Navy proposed to locate the OLF in one North Carolina country was scrapped in 2008, the service began looking at five other sites – three in Virginia and two in North Carolina. In a startling rebuke, local residents and governments fought the plans, and passed resolutions and hired lobbyists to ensure the OLF wouldn’t land in their backyards. In January 2011 the Navy announced it was delaying its search for an East Coast OLF until 2014.

Instead, the Navy has turned its eyes westward and is seeking West Coast bases for the fleet’s incoming F-35 jets. It’s a sure bet Friday’s crash will make it less likely that the OLF gets built near Oceana, which makes it more likely that the air station’s days are numbered.