I lived on 20th Street in Virginia Beach for about three years — about a quarter of a mile from the beach and less than three away from Naval Air Station Oceana. I also lived in the Friendship Village Apartments, not far from where a Navy F/A-18 crashed into an apartment building this morning.
Other than the presence of jet noise — and the stickers both for and against it — the passage of F/A-18s, helicopters, and various cargo and electronic surveillance aircraft occurred with the regularity of a ticking clock. It wasn't until today — six years after I moved away from the Atlantic coast — that I even thought about how close I was to a potential disaster.
To be honest, for most of the time I was living in Virginia Beach I didn't picture myself living in "Accident Potential Zone 2" — I just lived in an apartment complex that was sometimes loud. There are those for, against and indifferent to residential flight paths, but most people probably didn't give it much thought.
The 20th St. address where I spent most of my time in Virginia Beach wasn't technically in the NAS Oceana's crash zone, but low flying military jets — mostly fighters — were a fact of life in both places. Often, as I paused a phone conversation and waited for the jet engine roar to subside, I'd look of through the trees, spotting the silhouettes of a pair of swept-wing fast movers as they streaked toward the Atlantic Ocean.
My friend Geoff Davis, who for many years lived a block and a half away from the site of a Dec. 2008 F/A-18 crash in San Diego that claimed the lives of a child, mother and grandmother while the husband was away at work, said he never really thought about it much either before the crash happened.
Davis and I walked down the street several months after the crash to survey the damage. The wreckage had been removed, the black marks folded into the earth and the lot fenced around with inoffensive wooden fencing, but there was a brick garden border across the street that still bore the black scars of some piece of stray wreckage.
"There are planes everywhere in San Diego, no matter where you go," said Davis in a phone conversation today. "Something is bound to happen, you just hope it doesn't happen near you."
Having grown up below Washington Dulles International Airport (I've seen my house from the plane in the wintertime by tracing roadways from the neighborhood pool), I suppose the same thing could have happened with a passenger jet.
It's always awful when someone is hurt, or worse, killed by a malfunctioning aircraft, but so many of us live near airports that the latent danger, along with jet engine roar, are a fact of life.
Photo Credits: AP, Yes Oceana