A Marine rescued off NC coast happened within minutes after his jet crashed into the Atlantic Ocean late Friday afternoon. The plane ended up in the water about a mile-and-a-half off the coast of North Carolina, prompting an ocean rescue of the Marine pilot.
The pilot, who has not been identified, is in stable condition at Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune, FOX News reports. The Wrightsville Coast Guard team belonging to Station Wrightsville Beach picked up the pilot and military aircraft were quickly on the scene after the crash.
The Marine rescued off the NC coast was from Marine Attack Squadron 542, according to a spokesman. “We can confirm that a pilot with Marine Attack Squadron 542, Marine Aircraft Group 14, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing ejected from an AV-8B Harrier at approximately 5:05 p.m. off the coast of Wilmington, N.C.,” said Marine Lt. Maida Zheng. According to Zheng, the pilot was rescued by an H-60 Seahawk helicopter at about 5:28 p.m.
New Hanover County 911 dispatchers said they got a call at 4:46 reporting something crashing into the water. Other callers reported seeing a person with a parachute fall into the water.
Connor Bishop was on the beach near access 11 when he saw a splash far out in the ocean, WXII 12 reported. “Instinctively, I thought it was a whale for some reason, so I didn’t pay too much attention to it,” Bishop said, adding that he did not hear anything from the crash. Bishop said he had seen planes doing maneuvers above shortly before seeing the splash.
After seeing Wrightsville Beach rescue vehicles drive to the beach with their blue lights on and seeing more planes circling, Bishop went to the Holiday Inn, where emergency crews had set up a staging area for the Marine rescued off the NC coast. “I hope the guy’s OK,” he said.
At Figure Eight Island, Grace Haley was sitting on the beach when she saw something fall out of the sky and hit the ocean. “It almost looked like somebody dropped a bomb in the water,” Haley said, adding that she saw a parachute in the water moments after.
Three planes circled the scene of the crash almost immediately, with two military helicopters joining a few minutes later. “When it first happened, I thought it was a military practice thing,” Haley said. “Once I saw more military helicopters and planes fly in and the Coast Guard get involved, I knew it was real.”
While the pilots were conducting training in the area, all four of them intended to return to Wilmington International Airport, which they had taken off from.
A New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office boat and Coast Guard boat were monitoring the debris field in the water near Figure Eight Island, according to Lt. Jerry Brewer, spokesman for the sheriff’s office. Several squadrons of AV-8B Harriers are based at Cherry Point in Havelock, which is roughly 20 miles southeast of New Bern.
Harrier jets are capable of vertically taking off and landing, according to the Marine Corps website. The site said the jet’s “22,000 pounds of thrust enable the Harrier II to hover like a helicopter, and then blast forward like a jet at near-supersonic speeds.”
Stars and Stripes said that while the Marine was rescued off the NC coast, the military is slowly phasing out use of the AV-8B Harrier with the new F-35B Lightning II. Both aircraft had demonstration flights as part of the Cherry Point Air Show over the weekend. Cherry Point is expected to begin replacement of its Harriers in 2023.