The pilot of a small military training plane was rescued in waters south of Oahu after ejecting from the aircraft this afternoon.
City Emergency Medical Services officials said the 47-year-old male pilot was taken in serious condition to a hospital after a “controlled fall from aircraft.”
Ian Gregor, a Federal Aviation Administration spokesman, said that a “Hawker Hunter jet went down in the ocean around 2:25 p.m. after taking off.”
“The plane went down about 3.5 miles south of Runway 8R,” he said.
Jamey Regelbrugge was captaining a boat for Hawaiian Parasail south of Oahu when he saw the jet fly over the parachute he was pulling behind his boat. He saw the pilot eject and the plane crash into the water. Almost in an instant, the Coast Guard came and pulled the pilot out of the water.
“The jet sunk immediately,” Regelbrugge said. “Just a big huge splash and then just went down.
“It was almost like surreal,” he said. “It was almost fake. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam officials said in a statement that the jet was being operated by a civilian contractor flying in conjunction with the Hawaii Air National Guard’s “Sentry Aloha” exercises, which are scheduled through Dec. 19. The exercises have been temporarily suspended in the wake of the crash.
Flights were not allowed to depart Daniel K. Inouye International Airport for less than a half-hour after the crash, but all commercial operations have resumed, state Department of Transportation spokesman Tim Sakahara said.
Departures were temporarily put on hold as a precaution and to verify that there was no debris on the runway, said Sakahara. State firefighters also launched a rescue boat to aid in the rescue, he added.
A Coast Guard spokesman said crews were checking for pollution or environmental impacts from the crash.
The Coast Guard said the plane belonged to the Virginia-based Airborne Tactical Advantage Co.
The company said on its website that for the last 20 years, ATAC has trained Navy, Marine, Air Force and Army crews.
“From five bases worldwide, including the continental U.S., Hawaii and the Pacific, ATAC has trained the finest warfighter with over 42,000 hours of tactical flying support,” the company said.
ATAC said it is the only civilian organization approved to train with the Navy’s elite Fighter Weapons School, known as “TOPGUN.”
ATAC flies the Mk-58 Hawker Hunter, the F-21 KFIR and L-39 Albatros.
During last summer’s Rim of the Pacific exercises, ATAC “aggressor” aircraft flew nearly 100 hours in support of training with the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, as well as the multinational naval force participating in the exercise, the company said.
ATAC said it has participated in every RIMPAC exercise since 2006.
Hawker Hunters, a British single-seat fighter that first flew in 1951, are flown by contractors to replicate enemy aircraft in training exercises.
Sentry Aloha, a large-scale fighter exercise, started Dec. 5, and the Hawaii Guard had warned that Oahu residents, particularly along the island’s southern coast, might see an increase in military aircraft during takeoffs and landings at the airport.
Officials said Sentry Aloha is an ongoing series of exercises hosted by the Air Guard’s 154th Wing to provide realistic combat training for Air National Guard, U.S. Air Force, and other Department of Defense services.
Visiting units include KC-135 Stratotanker air refueling support from the Iowa and Wisconsin Air National Guard, F-15 Eagles from the Oregon Air National Guard and U.S. Navy F-18 Hornets based in California.
The visiting aircraft have been taking part in simulated combat exercises with the 199th and 19th Fighter Squadrons’ F-22 Raptors at Hickam.
Sentry Aloha exercises have been conducted by the Hawaii Air Guard for over 20 years. This year’s exercise involves more than 800 personnel and 30 aircraft from nine states and 12 different military units, officials said.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporters William Cole and Rob Shikina, and photographer Cindy Ellen Russell contributed to this report.