The pilot who ejected from a Harrier military jet over the ocean at Wrightsville Beach Friday evening has been released from the hospital, according to military officials. The pilot, whose name has not been released at this point, is recovering safely at home.
Emergency crews in New Hanover County responded to the jet crash off Wrightsville Beach just after 5 p.m. Friday.
According to dispatch, the crash was reported near the 1700 block of North Lumina Avenue.
The pilot had departed the Wilmington International Airport and was conducting flight training with the intention of returning to the airport.
Jeremy Owens, Captain of Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue, and Kyle Miess, an Ocean Rescue Guard, were first on scene. Miess was off duty, and Owens was supposed to be getting off work, but as soon as it was confirmed that a plane had gone down, they both jumped on a jet ski and raced to the crash site, which was about two miles off shore.
They had no idea what to expect.
"I was trying to figure out, OK, is it a big crash? Am I expecting any burns?" Miess explained.
"Once we kinda got closer to it we saw, I guess it was the wings of the plane sticking up out of the water a couple feet, there was just stuff, fuel spilled everywhere and stuff floating everywhere around where the wreckage site was," Owens said.
Several hundred meters away, they spotted the pilot. A military spokesperson says the pilot inflated a personal flotation device that he was wearing on the flight.
"He was kinda out of the water sitting in the chair, that’s when we saw him floating and pulled up to him, it looked like he was just kind of sitting in a recliner out there, pretty cold but not a scratch on him, so he is very fortunate," said Owens.
Miess jumped off the jet ski and swam over to the pilot, treading water while trying to assess him. He also made sure their were no other victims.
"It wasn’t too hard to assess him just because the conditions were so good we weren’t dealing with any big waves or any wind really,"said Miess.
Despite being cold, he said the pilot was miraculously OK.
"I was taken back by how good of condition was, he didn't have a bruise, he didn't have a cut, and we were having a nice conversation. I mean he was a little cold, looked a little pale from just being cold but besides that he was fine," said Miess.
They were prepared to get the pilot back to shore, however, a military helicopter arrived to take the pilot to the hospital.
"We are just doing our job, and we love it, that’s what we train for," said Owens. "We are fortunate to have the equipment we have, the jet ski we are able to launch it within a few minutes of getting the call."
Military officials said the pilot and jet were both from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point located in Havelock.
Several witnesses who were on Wrightsville Beach at the time, described seeing a very large splash.
"I just saw a huge splash. Didn't think much to it at first until I saw a couple sirens from, the Tahoes from the Wrightsville Beach Police Department head down. Noticed a couple aircraft circling around more than they usually do," said Connor Bishop.
"I was sitting on the beach reading and looked up to watch the surfers and in the background saw a really big slash," said Chad Koon. "Then I watched three fighter jets fly a pattern around where the splash happened, then a helicopter came closer down to the water and hovered for a while."
The incident is still under investigation.
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