A United States Marine Corps pilot is safe after a Harrier jet crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Wrightsville Beach late Friday afternoon.
According to Marine 1st Lt. Maida Zheng, a public affairs officer with II Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF), a Marine pilot ejected from a Harrier aircraft at 5:05 p.m. Friday. The pilot departed from Wilmington International Airport and was conducting flight training with the intention of returning to ILM.
The pilot was pulled out of the water by a U.S. Navy helicopter at 5:28 p.m., Zheng said. The Naval helicopter is based out of Naval Air Station in Norfolk, Virginia, but is currently attached to the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit based out of Camp Lejeune.
“We would like to thank our U.S. Navy counterparts for their swift action in rescuing our pilot,” Zheng said.
Lifeguards with Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue were the first responders on scene and assisted with the rescue, according to Wrightsville Beach Town Manager Tim Owens. The single-seat aircraft crashed a mile and a half off the shore of the northern part of Wrightsville Beach.
Emergency personnel set up a staging area at the Holiday Inn Resort at 1706 N. Lumina Ave., near Public Beach Access #9. The New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office assisted in monitoring the debris from the wreck.
The pilot was transported to Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune and is listed as being in stable condition.
The pilot and Harrier are based at MCAS Cherry Point in Havelock. The base is home to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, which encompasses Marine Aircraft Group 14, which includes four AV-8B Harrier squadrons. The pilot’s squadron provides offensive air support, armed reconnaissance, and air-defense for the II MEF.
The planes are also known as “jump jets” due to their ability to perform vertical and short takeoffs and landings as well as hover like helicopters before blasting forward like other jets. The U.S. Marine Corps began using AV-8Bs, the second generation of Harriers, in the 1980s. They have been used extensively in combat since the Gulf War.
The military’s investigation into the crash is ongoing.