VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - It's a tragedy that literally hits close to home for the staff inside Surf Rider Restaurant on Oceana Blvd, Thursday.
The restaurant sits down the street from Naval Air Station Oceana, the home base for an F/A-18 Super Hornet jet that crashed off the coast of Key West, Fla. late Wednesday afternoon.
"(We've) been talking about it a lot," said Justin Hertzog, an Assistant Manager at Surf Rider. "It’s really tragic to hear about something like that.”
According to the U.S. Navy, the jet is part of the Strike Fighter Squadron 213, the "Blacklions," and was getting ready to land at Naval Air Station Key West during a training flight when there was a mishap.
Witnesses say the plane tilted in the air and caught fire before dropping out of the sky.
The Navy says both the pilot and weapons system officer inside were able to eject before their plane hit the water.
They were recovered about a mile away from the runway and taken to a nearby hospital, but neither survived.
"Me and my wife, we looked at it this morning. We both stopped, we were really sad, we said a prayer," said Delorn Smith, who was getting his hair cut at Premier barber shop on Virginia Beach Boulevard near NAS Oceana. "We just thought about it because they pass our house. They go over our house 24 hours a day, every day.”
The barbers inside tell News 3 many of their clients come from the base. The same goes for Surf Rider.
"They come here in uniform all the time. It makes you wonder if I’ve seen those pilots before," said Hertzog.
News of the crash has left a painful imprint on the community of Hampton Roads.
She didn’t know the men personally, but military spouse Gertrude Ralph says she has been thinking of the family since the moment she heard the news.
“My husband served in the Vietnam era, so I have an appreciation for what the family is going through at this time and we appreciate what they have done and what they sacrificed from their country so we can enjoy what we have ,” Ralph said.
Rachel Chatfield has close friends and family members serving in the military.
“I think it’s the most noble profession you can do in this country,” Chatfield said.
She said she too has been praying for the family and members of the squadron who are now without someone they love.
“I hope that they all can go to work and come home every day and so I am very sad for the families who don’t get to have that every day,” Chatfield said.
The Blacklions are scheduled to complete their training in Key West on March 21 when they will return to Naval Air Station Oceana.
The cause of the crash is currently under investigation.