updated 3/11/2010 5:25:56 PM ET 2010-03-11T22:25:56

Two Marine aviators aboard a flaming F/A-18D reacted quickly enough to slow their jet so they could safely eject over the Atlantic Ocean, their commander said Thursday.

Pilot Maj. Duane Litpak, 35, and weapons officer Capt. Jonathan Hutchison, 29, made it home safe Wednesday night after being plucked from a survival raft by a Coast Guard helicopter, officials said.

"Ejecting from a jet can be dangerous if not fatal. It is not uncommon to break limbs," said Lt. Col. Joseph Maybach, commander officer of the duo's Fighter Attack Squadron 224.

Maybach said the air crew had "the presence of mind" to slow down the jet in order to prepare for the ejection. Both men had medical checkups and are home with their families, the commander said.

An internal investigation will be conducted to determine what happened to the $29 million jet.

Maybach lauded the Coast Guard's quick reaction dispatching a search and rescue team from its base in Charleston, saying its actions "were the big factors in getting the air crew recovered quickly."

Earlier, a Marine Corps spokesman said the two Marines decided to try to make it back home after encountering engine trouble about 60 miles from shore and sighting flames heading their way.

"The fire was making its way toward the cockpit, so they determined they could not make it back and they were forced to eject," said Gunnery Sgt. Chad McMeen.

"It really was a miracle. They were back on land within about two hours of the incident," McMeen said.

The crew was involved in a training mission. The aircraft hit the water about 35 miles off the coast of St. Helena Sound north of Beaufort.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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