James Hartley, Emily Brindley and Haley Samsel
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Two military pilots were seriously injured when they ejected from their plane before it crashed into the back yard of a home in North Texas during a training exercise Sunday morning.
No residents in the neighborhood, off Tejas Trail in Lake Worth, were injured, authorities said at a press conference Sunday afternoon. But families were displaced from three homes that had significant damage.
One of the pilot’s parachutes became tangled in power lines, and the other pilot landed in a nearby neighborhood, authorities said. Both pilots were taken to local hospitals, one in critical condition and the other in serious condition, according to a MedStar official. Two neighbors said they saw one pilot’s flight suit catch fire. The names of the pilots have not been released.
The Navy jet crashed in a back yard between the 4000 blocks of Tejas Trail and Dakota Trail shortly before 11 a.m. Sunday, according to Lake Worth police.
The neighborhood is near the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth, in an area that the military has identified as a potential accident zone, because of its proximity to where planes take off and land, police said at a news conference Sunday afternoon.
The cause of the crash is under investigation.
A statement on the Chief of Naval Air Training Facebook page said it was a Navy T-45C Goshawk jet trainer aircraft assigned to Training Air Wing 2 at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas, that crashed in Lake Worth, about two miles north of Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth.
“The two occupants ejected from the aircraft,” the Navy’s statement said. “The instructor pilot is in stable condition; the student naval aviator’s condition is unknown but he is alive and receiving treatment. Both were transported to medical facilities for evaluation.”
“The pilots were conducting a routine training flight that originated from Corpus Christi International Airport,” the statement said. “The cause of the crash is unknown.”
The Naval Safety Center will be in charge of the investigation. Officials from the Navy, Air Force and Lockheed Martin responded to the scene along with first responders from Lake Worth and Fort Worth, authorities said.
The Red Cross is assisting residents who had to be evacuated from their homes, Lake Worth Fire Chief Ryan Arthur said.
NEW: A viewer sent @FOX4 these photos — following the military training jet crash — of one of the pilot’s parachutes that collided with power lines. Two pilots injured, one is critical. More on @FOX4. pic.twitter.com/Uptu4aKAu0— David Sentendrey (@DavidSFOX4) September 19, 2021
“This incident could have been much worse knowing this plane went down in a residential area here in Lake Worth,” Arthur said.
Lake Worth first responders have had regular training exercises to practice for the possibility of a plane crash, which is one of their highest priorities for emergency drills because of the area’s “unique position” near the military base, Arthur said. He said this is the first such crash during his time with the department.
The fire was contained to the plane, but the three homes were damaged by debris from the crash, officials said.
The accident also caused electrical outages within a two- to three-block radius, and the power may be out for a few days while the wreckage is removed from the area, authorities said.
Lt. Michelle Tucker, public affairs officer for the Chief of Naval Air Training in Corpus Christi, described the military’s process for evaluating damage and reimbursing homeowners.
“We have personnel go out to the scene, and they reach out to those individual homeowners directly, and they take care of those things for them, so it should be pretty seamless,” Tucker said. “That process is already in place, between our legal department and then environmental cleanup as well.
“They’re very, very thorough. They will return the property to as close as pre-crash conditions as possible, maybe even better, hopefully. That’s something that we definitely take very seriously. It’s really hard on homeowners.”
By mid-afternoon, authorities still had the crash site off Tejas and Dakota Trails blocked from traffic and media.
Monica Wilson and her husband live two houses down from where the jet crashed. She had just taken her grandchildren inside from the back yard when she heard the crash.
“I’m still hearing it now,” she said hours after. “It’s not something that I’ll be able to forget.”
She said her mind tried to run through different possibilities of what the sound could have been: a car crash, a blown power transformer, two blasts from a short gun. None of those were loud enough to have been the sound, though, she said.
Then she and her husband saw a pilot coming down with a parachute. His flight suit caught fire when he hit a power line down the road at Olé Donut, she said. Wilson said she saw a Careflight helicopter come into the area.
Her grandchildren were terrified at the sound, Wilson said, but she was able to calm them down and get them back to their parents’ house.
The emergency response was startlingly fast, she said. First responders from Lake Worth, Saginaw and Fort Worth were already arriving in the area before she fully understood what happened. They must have been alerted that the aircraft was having problems and mobilized to respond before the crash, she concluded.
Sitting in a folding Buc-ee’s chair in front of her house next to her sister, Vanessa Morales, Wilson said she wasn’t sure she wanted to sit outside and watch as police and military personnel came and went on the other side of the yellow police tape, bordering the right side of her front yard. But she couldn’t make herself get up and go inside.
Instead, she took video and photo of what was happening. One video she took after the crash shows plumes of smoke billowing from behind her neighbors’ houses.
Wilson said it took a couple of hours before she started to process how serious the crash was — and how close it was to her home.
“Now it’s unnerving to live here,” Wilson said. “Now it’s gonna make me nervous when the planes fly through.”
Rey Martinez said he’s lived in his home on Dakota Trail for about 17 years. When he heard the loud noises, he stepped outside.
“When I came out, I saw the smoke, so I followed the smoke and that’s when I saw the plane on fire,” Martinez said.
He and a neighbor walked toward Olé Donut, the shop at the end of the block, and saw something hanging from the power lines, he said.
“We saw something hanging and [said], ‘Hey, I think that looks like a parachute or something.’ We went over there, the guy was still on the ground,” Martinez said. “He was on fire.”
The paramedics showed up quickly, Martinez said, and put out the fire with extinguishers from the donut shop.
Martinez also saw debris scattered in the neighborhood, including the seat of the plane that the pilot ejected. And just down the street, he saw the house where the plane itself had crashed.
“It was just a lot of fire,” he said.
Neighbors near the edge of the boundary also heard the crash.
Mary Joyner, whose mother lives near the crash site, said they were sitting at the kitchen table when they heard a “ba-boom.” In the same moment, the power went out.
Joyner said she assumed it was a blown transformer, and was confused when she saw people running down the street toward the source of the noise.
“That just wasn’t what I would’ve ever thought … an airplane crash would sound like.”
When she stepped into the front yard, she saw a plume of black smoke and smelled what she described as a metallic smell.
Joyner said her mother has lived in the house for more than 50 years. It’s the house where Joyner grew up, and over time they’d become accustomed to the daily sound of planes flying overhead.
But Joyner said she can’t remember another plane crash since she was a child.
“You live here all your life, you know it can happen, the planes are right here,” Joyner said. “You always have the thought.”
Down the block, the Cox family said they, too, have gotten used to the air traffic. But when the plane crashed, Aaron Cox and his father Jerry Cox both heard what they described as a dull “pop pop.”
Aaron Cox said he also felt vibrations in the ground at the same time. And then, all at once, the power cut out.
Then there was the smell in the air.
“When you’re starting a grill up and you’ve sprayed the lighter fluid, that’s what it smelled like to me,” Aaron Cox said.
By about 2 p.m., both the Cox family and Joyner said their power hadn’t been restored. Joyner worried about her mother, who needs electricity for her oxygen machine. Both families said they hadn’t received any notification of when power might return.
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