ARLINGTON, Ore. – Two Marine reservists were killed when two F-18 fighter jets collided Wednesday during a training exercise over the Columbia River in northeastern Oregon, authorities said.
One of the bodies was found on the Oregon side of the river, the other on the Washington side, according to Chris Fitzsimmons, a deputy sheriff in Gilliam County.
Capt. Michael Braibish with the Oregon National Guard said at least one of those dead was a pilot, and the other one was either a pilot or a weapons operator.
An additional crew member survived and was to be released Wednesday evening from Mid-Columbia Medical Center.
“In some respects, it’s very amazing – no broken bones, no abrasions, minor injuries,” said Dr. John Jacobson, who treated the unnamed survivor.
Nancy Corey, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration in Seattle, said the jets were based at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, which is in San Diego.
They were on a low-altitude training exercise from a national guard base in Portland to a bombing range in Boardman, Ore., said Lt. Col. Bill Nielson with the Oregon Air National Guard. One plane was a single seater, and the other had two seats, he said.
The F-18 has either one or two seats, depending on the version. It is used by the Navy and Marine Corps and several countries including Canada, Australia, Spain, Kuwait, Switzerland, Finland and Malaysia.
In the American arsenal, the F-18 replaced the F-4 Phantom II, the A-7 Corsair and the A-6 Intruder as those planes were phased out of service in the 1990s. They are designed for air-to-air and air-to-ground combat.
Andrew David, 34, of Goldendale was casting out his fishing nets on the river when he heard the jets collide. When he looked up, he saw the flames and two parachutes, one of which landed in the water. He rushed over to try and help the man, David said, but the parachutist was dead.
“When you see something like this, you don’t expect to be right in the middle of it,” David said. “Debris was dropping by us. He was pretty beat up. It was pretty bad. We don’t want to see anything like this again.”