Site of F-16 crash, including freeway, remains off-limits

Fri, May 17, 2019 (4:23 p.m.)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — A wide area including a freeway around an F-16 fighter jet crash site in Southern California remained off-limits Friday as military and civilian authorities investigated.

An explosive ordnance team was at the scene but officials would not say whether there were any armaments aboard the jet.

"As more information becomes available, which we expect to have later today, we will be able to release that information," Col. Thomas McNamara, vice commander of the Air Force Reserve's 452nd Air Mobility Wing, said at a news conference.

The aircraft crashed Thursday afternoon through the roof of a warehouse near March Air Reserve Base southeast of Los Angeles.

There was no explosion and no serious injuries among workers at the business.

The pilot ejected safely before the crash and was in good condition, McNamara said. The pilot's name was not released.

Authorities cordoned off an area for three-quarters of a mile (1.21 kilometers) around the scene, including a section of heavily traveled Interstate 215.

"Avoid this area at all costs," said Terri Kasinga, district spokeswoman for the California Department of Transportation.

No residential areas were involved, but the closure affected businesses and adjacent Riverside National Cemetery, authorities said.

"There were about 30 ceremonies that were going to take place out there today that other arrangements have had to be made," said Bruce Barton, director of emergency management for Riverside County.

The crash occurred during a training mission, March Air Reserve Base Deputy Fire Chief Timothy Holliday said.

"The pilot was having hydraulic problems," he said. "He started losing control of the aircraft."

Holiday said it was a "miracle" the jet didn't cause a fire or explosion.

A warehouse worker said he heard a deafening noise before the jet smashed into the building about 65 miles (105 kilometers) from Los Angeles.

"Next thing I know I just hear this explosion and turn around to the back of the building, and I just seen a burst of flames and just the ceiling started falling through every part of the building," Daniel Gallegos told KABC-TV. "I just made a run for it."

Six people from the business and six deputies who entered the building to search for possible victims were hosed off because of exposure to debris.

The crash started a small fire that was quickly doused by the building's sprinklers, state fire Capt. Fernando Herrera said.

Cellphone photos and video from inside the warehouse showed what appeared to be the tail of the plane buried in twisted metal and piles of cardboard boxes.

The cockpit canopy ended up on a runway, and a parachute had settled in a nearby field.

The F-16 was under the direction of the North American Aerospace Defense Command. The pilot is from the 144th Fighter Wing, an Air National Guard unit based in Fresno, and the F-16 belongs to the South Dakota Air National Guard in Sioux Falls.

The base is home to the Air Force Reserve Command's Fourth Air Force Headquarters and various units of the Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, California Air National Guard and California Army National Guard.

Antczak reported from Los Angeles. AP writer Robert Jablon contributed.

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