Two pilots from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort appeared uninjured Wednesday night after their two-seat F/A-18 Hornet crashed into the Atlantic Ocean during a routine training mission.
The pilots, whose names were not released, were returning to the base at about 5:30 p.m. when their fighter jet experienced dual engine failure about 30 miles east of St. Helena Sound, according to an air station news release.
The pilot and the jet's weapons system officer ejected from the plane, which plunged into the sea, and were spotted floating in an inflatable life raft less than an hour later by a search and rescue team from Coast Guard Station Charleston, said Gunnery Sgt. Chad McMeen, air station spokesman.
The pilots, members of Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 224, were flown back to the air station by Coast Guard helicopter, where they were checked out by base doctors as a precaution, McMeen said.
The Corps will investigate to determine the cause of the mishap, McMeen said.
A Coast Guard cutter was patrolling the crash site late Wednesday to locate and help recover pieces of the plane needed for the investigation, McMeen said.
Pilots from MCAS Beaufort are accustomed to flying over the ocean. They often venture offshore to practice air-to-air combat maneuvers and prepare for upcoming deployments, according to the air station. The Atlantic Ocean also is home to a number of off-shore bombing ranges, including three off the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia and northern Florida, frequently used by air station pilots.
"That's one of the unique things about Beaufort," McMeen said. "We can go out over the ocean and practice these maneuvers and it's much safer than doing it over a densely populated area."
The jet the pilots were flying, the F/A-18D, was introduced into the Navy's fleet in September 1987 and costs about $29 million, according to the Navy. The jet can travel nearly two times the speed of sound and is powered by two engines, each capable of producing about 17,700 pounds of thrust.