Seriously, would YOU have done any better?

A Navy jet went down in Virginia Beach a few days ago. (Local story here: http://www.wavy.com/dpp/news/local_news/va_beach/military-plane-crashes-in-virginia-beach) While the investigation is of course just getting started, and anything anyone says about anything is speculation, I've seen people on a couple of sites criticizing the pilots for bailing out and "letting" the plane hit a populated area, rather than staying with the jet and guiding it somewhere else, even if it meant dying.

Lay off. Seriously.

The crash evidently happened on takeoff, which means that neither the instructor nor the student pilot had any room with which to do basically anything, no matter what went wrong. One of them dumped fuel all over, which is what you're supposed to do when you are afraid that your sophisticated fighter jet will be a gigantic fireball when it hits the ground like a multi-million dollar lawn dart. Considering that the pilots and ejection seats were found a few dozen feet from the crash site, they must have bailed at the last possible second, when they could no longer affect the craft's trajectory. While there have been pilots who intentionally went down with the plane, the Navy really doesn't encourage you to do so if it won't make any difference.

Both the instructor and the student have probably just ended their flying careers anyway; if I understand correctly they won't be stripped of rank or wings, but will have their medical clearance revoked. Ejection seats are not particularly nice to human bodies -- the violence of the mechanism tends to wreck spines. They're honestly like one step better than death, in the list of things that could happen to you in a plane crash.

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