A US Military Plane Crashes on Florida Ranch

A U.S. Navy F-18 jet fighter crashed nose-first Tuesday on a ranch northeast of Lake Okeechobee, Florida. Authorities said it didn't appear the pilot survived.

The plane went down about 10:30 a.m. on the V-Bar-2 Ranch a few miles east of the Okeechobee County line, the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office said.

Sheriff Ken Mascara said a sheriff's helicopter called off a search after a half hour because officials didn't see any survivors or parachutes.

The jet took off from Oceana Naval Air Station, Va., and was believed to be headed to Key West, said Lt. Cmdr. Dawn Cutler, a Navy spokeswoman in Washington.

Oceana officials said a F/A-18C jet fighter on a routine training mission was reported missing in South Florida.

The single-seater Hornet was assigned to Oceana's Strike Fighter Squadron 106, but the Navy said it hadn't yet confirmed that the wrecked plane was the one that was missing.

Witnesses at the cattle ranch saw the plane go down but didn't see anyone eject, said sheriff's office spokesman Mark Weinberg.

County Fire District spokesman Capt. Tom Whitley said witnesses reported seeing the aircraft "coming nose down from the sky."

Large pieces of wreckage lay in a crater 15 feet deep and 20 feet wide, Whitley said. Smaller pieces of the plane were scattered in a half-mile circle around the wreck.

The F/A-18C is the standard Navy and Marine Corps fighter. The Hornet, which also comes in a two-seat version, was used extensively in strikes against Iraq during the Gulf War.

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