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SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- A jet fighter's engine exploded and caught fire Wednesday as it prepared to take off from a Bremerton, Wash.-based aircraft carrier off California, injuring 11 sailors, the military said.

Captain Ronald Reis, commanding officer of the USS John C. Stennis, said the right engine of an F/A-18C Hornet exploded on deck, blasting metal parts back toward two other aircraft.

Most of the injuries were minor. Two of the four sailors taken to Naval Medical Center San Diego have already been released. The pilot, a lieutenant in the Marine Corps, was not injured.

Their spirit and resolve was something to behold, Reis said, describing how the flight deck crew rushed in wearing silver flame-proof suits to put out the fire. My concerns were that the fire would spread from that aircraft subsequently to different aircraft and possibly to the ship itself. And that did not occur.

Reis, who just took command of the carrier on March 18, said when he saw the smoke billowing, he grabbed the microphone to address the entire ship and barked, Fight the fire! Fight the fire! He said the aggressive response could not have gone smoother.

The Stennis was conducting qualification flights for pilots and crews about 100 miles off the coast of San Diego when the incident happened Wednesday at about 2:50 p.m.

Reis estimated damage to the jet at over $1 million. The explosion severely damaged the engine, severing fuel and hydraulic lines and igniting a fire. He did not say if the two EA-6Bs sprayed by the blast sustained damage.

Reis couldn't reveal when the Stennis will return to Bremerton, only saying it will be in the near future.

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