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Navy pilot ejected from fighter jet off Key West, and chopper crew came to the rescue

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (March 1, 2021) Fleet Readiness Center Southeast’s (FRCSE) first completed F-5N Tiger II takes flight from Naval Air Station Jacksonville. (U.S. Navy Photo by Toiete Jackson/Released)

A U.S. Navy pilot ejected from a fighter plane over Key West Wednesday morning, the service confirmed.

The pilot is a member of Fighter Squadron Composite 111, a Navy Reserve unit that flies “adversary” planes against other fighter pilots in mock combat dog fights, said Naval Air Station Key West spokeswoman Danette Baso Silvers.

The pilot ejected while flying about 25 miles from Boca Chica Field at the air base shortly before 9:30 a.m., Baso Silvers said.

Baso Silvers said the Navy did not have immediate information about where the jet crashed.

A Navy search and rescue MH-60S helicopter crew rescued the pilot, who was found in the water and taken to a “Miami-area hospital for further evaluation,” Baso Silvers said in an emailed statement.

“The safety and well-being of our pilot remains our top priority,” Baso Silvers said. “The cause of the incident will be investigated. More details will be released as they become available.”

Fighter Squadron Composite 111, also known as the Sundowners, flies the F-5N Tiger, a fighter plane built by Northrop Grumman between 1963 and 1989.

More than 20 countries still use the plane as a fighter aircraft, according to Northrop Grumman’s website, and both the U.S. Navy and Air Force fly it as an adversary plane in simulated combat exercises, the company says.

As well as being home to detachment of Navy Strike Fighter Squadron 106, which flies F/A-18 Hornets and F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets, Naval Air Station Key West is one of the nation’s premier air-to-air combat training facilities for pilots of all military branches.

It is also a pier-side support base for U.S. and foreign naval ships, Baso Silvers said.

The Sundowners are one of 32 units assigned to the base, which employs around 1,600 active-duty military personnel, including members of the Coast Guard, she said.

Roughly 1,400 civilians also work at the base, Baso Silvers said.

As a major naval air facility, it’s also experienced plane accidents over the years.

In March 2018, two Navy aviators were killed when the F/A-18F Super Hornet they were flying crashed into the shallow waters surrounding the base.


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