VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - A slew of residents who lost their homes after a Navy jet crashed into their apartment complex began picking up government checks on Monday to help them pay for food, clothing and housing over the next two weeks as they try to figure out where they'll live.
Dozens of apartment units were destroyed or evacuated Friday when the F/A-18D Hornet careened into the Mayfair Mews apartment complex shortly after taking off from nearby Naval Air Station Oceana. Several people were injured, but nobody died when the plane slammed into the apartment complex's empty courtyard. Residents fled burning and damaged homes with few belongings, and fire officials worked Monday to help those who lived in undamaged homes retrieve medications and critical documents. Vehicles that had been towed away from the apartment complex were also being returned to residents.
The Navy said the crash was caused by a catastrophic mechanical malfunction, although a detailed investigation to pinpoint the exact cause is ongoing. Normal flight operations at Oceana resumed on Monday and the Navy said it sent the downed aircraft's flight incident recorder to be examined in Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. The Navy said most of the aircraft debris at the apartment complex would be removed by the end of the week.
Navy officials estimate that about 63 people living in 46 units were affected by the crash. Initial payments started at $2,300 for individual residents, with more going to those with families. Many apartment complex residents spent the weekend with family and friends and weren't sure what they planned to do for long-term housing.
"I've been on my own for 38 or 39 years, and it's very difficult to not have your own belongings and your own home and watch your TV. This friend that I'm staying with, she said I'm not imposing. But you know, you feel like you are," said 79-year-old evacuated apartment complex resident Joanie Coleman.
Coleman said her apartment wasn't destroyed by the crash, but she's unsure if she'll ever be able to return to it. She said she's considering moving to Swansea, Ill., where her daughter lives, though she would prefer to stay in Virginia Beach.
"The friend I'm staying with said I can't believe I haven't cried," she said. "I said, `Look. I lived through the war in England, and if I can live through that I can live through anything.'"
Much of Coleman's decision on whether to move will depend on how much compensation she'll get from the Navy. Navy officials have already started distributing forms for those who want to file a legal claim against the government for property damage and injuries, among other things.
Caroline Walker, a Mayfair Mews resident who was at the Virginia Beach Law Enforcement Training Academy to pick up her check, said she was still very upset about the plane crash but said she wasn't sure what legal recourse she might seek.
"I can't think beyond five minutes from now," she said.
Residents have up to two years to make those claims.
"We're here for the long haul," said Capt. Bob Geis, commanding officer of Naval Air Station Oceana.
Geis said the initial money being distributed Monday was meant to be a short-term fix, but some residents could receive more. He said that would be decided on a case-by-case basis. He said he didn't have any estimates on how much the displacement services had cost so far.
"Everyone that I've talked to has been absolutely gracious and we want to make sure we're going to do everything in our power that we have the legal ability to do to take care of the folks that have been displaced by this," Geis said.
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