A witness to the F-18 crash in England on Wednesday that resulted in the death of a Marine Corps major praised the pilot for steering away from homes before the fatal accident.
The pilot, who has been identified as Maj. Taj Sareen, died after his F-18C Hornet crashed near Royal Air Force Lakenheath in England.
Karen Miles-Holdaway, who witnessed the crash from her backyard, told the Watton & Swaffham Times that the pilot appeared to purposely steer away from the houses before the jet crashed.
"It came over the houses much lower than they normally do. Then I heard the noise which I can only describe as like an afterburner noise, a huge sound and nothing like the jets we normally have over here," Miles-Holdaway said.
"We didn’t realize it had actually come down, it was not really one loud bang."
She emphasized that the community was "grateful" for the pilot’s effort to avoid homes before the crash.
"I have to say the whole community is feeling for the pilot’s family, and we send our condolences and prayers. I think that he could have ejected earlier, but was trying to avoid the houses and for that we are incredibly grateful," Miles-Holdaway said.
The crash occurred early Wednesday morning, shortly after the pilot had taken off from the Lakenheath air base. The jet was one of six flying from Bahrain to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California.
The F-18 belonged to Marine Attack Fighter Squadron 232, which was stationed at Miramar. The squadron was part of Operation Inherent Resolve and was carrying out airstrikes in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State (IS, also known as ISIL and ISIS).
Another community member, Patrick Turner, saw the pilot eject from the plane.
"It looked like some sort of beacon had shot out," he said. "Once the parachute opened he floated across in front of me and ended up behind the trees. It was unbelievable, I’ve never seen anything like it."