A fighter jet that crashed off Chincoteague Island in Virginia this month was recovered in pieces from more than 100 feet below the ocean's surface during a 15-day salvage operation that ended this week, according to the Navy.
Among the salvaged wreckage was the jet's flight data recorder, which could reveal more information on how the aircraft went down.
The D.C. Air National Guard pilot of the F-16C Falcon, based out of Joint Base Andrews in Prince George's County, survived the accident after ejecting and being rescued by the Coast Guard.
The pilot lost control Aug. 1 after his plane clipped wings with another jet during a routine training exercise, officials said. The pilot of the second jet, which also was damaged, was able to fly back to Andrews.
The Navy's mobile diving and salvage unit began its search for the wreckage Aug. 6 using sidescan sonar, among other tools. Seven days later, it located the wreckage three miles from the crash site, about 35 miles off the Virginia coast.
On Aug. 14, a remote-controlled vehicle recovered debris, and the salvage was turned over to Navy divers, who began loading pieces of the wreckage into a recovery basket, to be hauled to the surface.
The divers found the flight data recorder, or "black box," amid the wreckage, the Navy said.
The recorder and other pieces of the jet have been returned to Andrews, where they will be studied by the Air Force Safety Investigation Board, which reviews aircraft accidents.
"These key items will help us to understand what happened and what we can do to prevent a similar occurrence," said Brig. Gen. Marc Sasseville, commander of the 113th Wing of the D.C. Air National Guard.
The F-16C is considered the workhorse of the Air Force, and accidents are not uncommon.
In fiscal year 2012, there were two "Class A" mishaps — resulting in a death or at least $2 million in damage — involving F-16Cs, according to Air Force data. In fiscal year 2011, at least five F-16Cs crashed in the United States and elsewhere.
Built first by General Dynamics and now by Lockheed Martin, the aircraft are still being built, mostly for foreign military sales. The Air Force took delivery of more than 2,000 of the jets before 2001 at a cost in excess of $50 million each in today's dollars, according to GlobalSecurity.org.