VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) _ The pilot of a burning Navy fighter jet guided the crippled plane away from a hotel and safely ejected with another crewman before it crashed into the ocean, authorities said.

The two crewmen landed in the courtyard of a condominium complex.

Witnesses reported hearing an explosion shortly after the $33 million A6-E Intruder took off late Tuesday from Oceana Naval Air Station.

''All of a sudden sparks came out from the back. He climbed, then there was a loud boom, and it looked like his tail was on fire,'' said Aaron D. Thaxton, a 19-year-old Navy man stationed at Oceana. He was driving by the base at the time.

The pilot headed the jet toward the Atlantic before he and other man ejected, Navy officials said.

The blazing aircraft flew over the Station One Hotel before plunging into the ocean, said Navy spokesman Cmdr. Steve Honda. The plane was not carrying any bombs, Honda said.

Ron Welch and Greg White were working on a car in front of White's apartment when the A-6 roared overhead. ''It was flaming fully,'' said White.

Lorraine Fortier, 24, was at the Station One Hotel.

''I was in my room when I heard this loud sound,'' said Ms. Fortier. ''I've been here a couple weeks so I was used to the noise the jets make taking off over the hotel and I knew this was not right.''

Ms. Fortier rushed to her balcony in time to see the jet slam into the ocean.

''I saw this big flash of light - this big fireball - hit the water and that was it.''

Part of the plane's canopy and an ejection seat fell onto the beach, Honda said, but no one on the ground was hurt.

The Navy started an investigation, Honda said.

The pilot was taken to Virginia Beach General Hospital for observation and released within an hour, according to Lt. Terry Evans, a spokesman for the Atlantic Fleet Naval Air Force. The bombardier-navigator was taken to a clinic at the Oceana base where he was treated for cuts and released, Evans said.

He said their names would not be released.