Updated: 11 Injured in Jet Fire on USS Stennis; 2 Remain Hospitalized

USS John C. Stennis

Eleven people—eight sailors, a Marine and two civilians—were injured Wednesday afternoon after an F/A-18C Hornet caught fire on the flight deck of the USS John C. Stennis.

The cause of the fire is unknown and currently under investigation, Navy officials said.

“What we do know is that the jet experienced a catastrophic engine failure, which resulted in a fire,” said Lt. Aaron Kakiel, a spokesman for the Naval Air Forces at Naval Air Station North Island.

The incident occurred at about 2:50 p.m., as the jet was preparing to take off. The aircraft was in the catapults, about 10 seconds from launch, officials reported.

Capt. Ronald Reis, commanding officer of the Stennis, told reporters it was the right-side engine that caught fire and exploded. Reis said the explosion severed the fuel line and parts of the engine came out through the aft engine cowling, or the “skin” that holds the engine in place.  

Four of the injured sailors were medevaced to Naval Medical Center San Diego. Two of those sailors have since been treated and released, Kakiel said.

The two that remain in the hospital sustained more serious injuries, but are in stable condition, according to Reis. One of the sailors, who sustained a puncture wound in the chest from one of the flying engine parts, is expected to be discharged within the next 24 to 36 hours. The fourth sailor will be kept longer due to a broken femur, bruised hips and several fractures.

The other seven injured were treated by the medical staff onboard the ship. They sustained more minor injuries, such as light burns, twisted ankles and skinned knees, Reis explained.

The families of those involved have all been notified.  

The jet’s pilot was unhurt. The personnel on deck fighting the fire were able to pull him to safety, Reis said.

The captain praised the efforts and expert training of those onboard. “I was taken aback by how quickly and how well they extinguished the fire,” he said. “It was something to behold.”

Reis described the scene, as “18-, 19- and 20-year-old sailors in firefighting suits aggressively attacked the engine fire.”

The commanding officer said his first concern was that the fire would spread to the eight other planes on deck, two of which were positioned nearby the explosion. The two sailors that were most severely injured were attending those two nearby aircraft, according to Reis.  

“The flight deck of an aircraft carrier is an inherently dangerous place,” he said, adding that fires onboard can “very unforgiving.” 

But the fire was quickly extinguished, those on deck were able to reposition the two nearby planes, and there was no significant damage to the ship.

“I am extremely proud of our crew,” Reis added.

The aircraft carrier is currently conducting training exercises about 100 miles off the coast of San Diego.

“They resumed flight ops today,” Kakiel said. “They will continue training while they conduct the investigation into what happened out there.”

Additional safety precautions were taken to ensure the catapults were retested and ready after the mishap, Reis explained. The captain also said the investigation would examine the jet’s maintenance records, the cause of the fire, and the likelihood that something like this could happen again.

The jet’s pilot is a first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, who is in his early 20s, with a little more than two years of service, Reis said. The pilot will now face a Field Naval Aviation Board, which will look at what took place and determine whether the pilot will be allowed to fly again.

“All indications are that the pilot did his procedures the way he was supposed to do them,” the captain added.  

The Stennis is homeported in Bremerton, WA, but the carrier made a visit to Coronado in February for the Centennial of Naval Aviation celebration at NAS North Island.

Visitors were treated to tours of the Stennis at the event, and the Parade of Flight featured a grand finale V-formation of about 40 planes from the carrier’s air wing, which is based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.  

This article was originally published on March 31 at 10:30 a.m.