In the aftermath of tragedy, Colby Smith has emerged as a hometown hero.
The Walkersville High School graduate helped rescue one of the pilots injured in the Navy jet crash that devastated Virginia Beach two weeks ago.
Smith walked away from the crash site with lasting memories and a stained T-shirt.
“I actually got some of the blood from the pilot on me,” he said.
Hours passed after the crash before Smith got cleaned up and found his family.
“They all thought I was dead for a couple of hours,” he said.
While his family searched for him, the former Frederick County resident was busy helping the injured pilot.
Smith found the pilot on a patio near his home in Virginia Beach.
“His parachute was flapping in the wind, and he was still connected to it,” Smith said.
The pilot was still wearing his air mask when Smith and other residents carried him to safety.
Smith said the pilot was alert, though obviously injured.
“His face was full of blood,” Smith said. “That was an image I will never get out of my head.”
The pilot was taken by ambulance to a hospital, Smith said. No one died in the crash, and seven people were taken to hospitals for treatment.
Moments before the crash, Smith said, he heard a loud rumbling noise.
“At first I thought it was a jet,” he said.
Navy jets fly low near his home every day and can sometimes be deafening.
But as the noise grew louder, Smith said, he knew something was wrong.
“The entire house started shaking like an earthquake,” Smith said. “My window was just a red and orange.”
Smith ran outside without shoes or his cellphone.
“I just thought … ‘I need to get out of here,'” he said.
A family friend eventually found Smith after the crash.
“Relatives I didn’t even know I had were calling me,” Smith said.
The Navy jet crashed less than 10 miles from a naval air station in Virginia Beach.
Smith and his family lived in a townhouse near the station, one of at least 40 apartments and townhouses that were damaged or destroyed in the crash. The family is temporarily staying with relatives and friends.
The pilot apologized as Smith carried him to safety, he said.
“He said, ‘I am so sorry for destroying your house.'”
The pilot’s apology was accompanied by explosions, mayhem and panic.
The F/A-18D jet was piloted by a student pilot and his instructor. The Marine Corps said the men experienced a mechanical malfunction.
Smith moved to Virginia Beach after graduating from Walkersville High School in 2010.