Military officials are investigating what caused a military plane to crash into homes in an Imperial Valley neighborhood about two hours southeast of San Diego County Wednesday.
The pilot safely ejected from the plane before it crashed, officials said, and no civilians on the ground were injured. Three homes were destroyed in the crash.
The American Red Cross told NBC News that 5 families have been displaced (a total of 22 people). The emergency organization also said chemicals at the site are being handled by military haz mat crews, who also put in a request with American Red Cross to talk to the affected families.
According to California Highway Patrol El Centro, the plane crashed in a residential area at Cross Road and Fonzie Avenue in Imperial, Calif., near the U.S.-Mexico border, about 115 miles from San Diego. One house caught fire as a result of the crash, and two additional homes were also impacted, CHP officials said.
Immediately after the incident, Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar also confirmed via Twitter that the Harrier jet crash impacted civilian structures.
Eight homes were evacuated, according to Imperial County officials, MCAS Miramar confirmed. Again, none of those residents were harmed.
MCAS Miramar officials said the Third Marine Aircraft Wing AV-8B Harrier was stationed at MCAS Yuma and crashed around 4:20 p.m. The pilot was transported to a local hospital for evaluation. He sustained minor injuries but is expected to make a full recovery. Early Thursday, MCAS Miramar updated his condition via Twitter saying he had been released from the hospital and was "doing well."
MCAS Miramar 1st Lt. Jose Negrete said authorities were on scene collecting evidence and assessing the damage. An investigation has been launched to determine the cause of the crash.
Patricia and Nestr Roblas live a few house down from the crash site and said the impact of the plane striking the area caused an explosion.
“I heard a large explosion, and it felt like an earthquake. My dad thought a car hit our house. It was just a loud explosion and I felt a jolt,” Patricia told NBC 7 San Diego. “It smelled really bad, like toxic fumes.”
Patricia said authorities came to their front door after the crash and told them to turn off their air conditioning unit so as not to let the fumes in.
Patricia said the ordeal was extremely frightening, to say the least.
“It was really scary. After they put the fires out, a few minutes later, we saw another huge fire so we didn’t know if there was an explosion because of gas or what,” she explained. “I was scared there would be more explosions and the fires would reach our house.”
Nestr said he was watching television when he heard an explosion. As he walked outside, he saw a "big, black wall of smoke" stemming from the crash site.
He said it felt as if he was watching a movie up close.
“If you’re watching a movie, [something like this] doesn’t look that scary but in real life you get freaked out," he said.
Imperial resident Cathie Blackburn lives about one mile from the site of the crash and told NBC 7 she heard a "loud boom" when the aircraft went down. The impact was so strong, Blackburn thought it may have been an earthquake.
Blackburn said some friends who live in the neighborhood saw the pilot eject.
She said the fire was put out quickly. As of 6:45 p.m., Blackburn said authorities were telling residents that streets in the surrounding area would be closed for the rest of the night as officials continue their investigation.
According to NBC News, this is the second crash in less than one month involving a Harrier jet from the MCAS Yuma base. On May 9, another crashed in a remote desert area near the Gila River Indian Community in Arizona during a routine training exercise.
In that case, the jet was destroyed and the pilot ejected safely as well. No one else was injured.
NBC 7 Coverage:
- READ: Jet Pilot "Followed Protocol:" Officials
- WATCH: Witness Describes Fiery Jet Crash into Homes
- EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Jet Pilot Helped by Residents
- WATCH: Raw Footage of Crash Scene
- WATCH: Official Gives Military Jet Crash Update
- PHOTOS: Military Jet Destroys 3 Homes in Imperial Valley