Businesses near the site where an F-16 Fighting Falcon crashed into a warehouse just west of a Southern California air base remained closed Friday as fire officials and military personnel conducted their investigation.
The pilot and 12 people on the ground were injured in the crash near March Air Reserve Base, about 65 miles east of Los Angeles in Riverside County. A warehouse worker at See Water Inc. said he heard the deafening noise of an F-16 jet moments before it smashed through the roof of the building.
The pilot, listed in good condition Friday morning, ejected and parachuted to safety before the Air National Guard fighter plane hit the warehouse in an industrial area. Witnesses at the warehouse said they were stunned to see what was happening overhead.
"Sales rep says, 'Hey, there's a plane going down over us,'" said Frank Sandoval. "There's no way, and sure enough we saw a guy eject right over our warehouse. The plane went into one side of the building through the other side of the building."
In total, a dozen people were hosed off for exposure to debris before being taken to hospitals for evaluation and treatment of minor injuries, state fire Capt. Fernando Herrera said.
The F-16 punched a huge hole in the roof of the 500,000-square-foot building and ruptured the on-site sprinkler system, but no fire was reported, according to fire officials. No one was seriously injured.
The warehouse is stacked with plastic pipes, aluminum awnings and other materials, according to the CHP, which received the 911 calls. Cellphone photos and video from inside showed what appeared to be the tail of the plane buried in twisted metal and piles of cardboard boxes.
Base officials said an ordnance disposal team was at the site Friday morning.
"Any time you're dealing with an aircraft incident, there are potential hazards," said Col Tom McNamara. "Incidents like this are very complex. Safety is our No. 1 priority at this point."
Fire officials took a cautious approach.
"Anything that may be in (the warehouse) is a concern, obviously not just to (firefighters), but to the military," Herrera said. "So we're going to take whatever precautions are necessary."
A large area around the warehouse was evacuated and nearby Interstate 215, which runs between the base and warehouse, was shut down until crews could render the jet's weaponry and ordnance safe. No residences were evacuated, but businesses with a three-quarter mile perimeter of the crash site were closed.
"As long as the aircraft is here, we are considering it a viable and dangerous area and we're taking the precautions necessary," Herrera said.
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Around 4:30 p.m. Friday afternoon, military officials detonated the ordnance in spectacular fashion and reopened lanes on the northbound 215 Freeway.
Southbound lanes were reopened shortly thereafter to close the loop on a 24-hour shut-down.
The crash happened during a training mission, March Air Reserve Base Deputy Fire Chief Timothy Holliday said.
"The pilot was having hydraulic problems," Holliday said. "He started losing control of the aircraft."
The jet's cockpit canopy was on a runway, and a parachute had settled in a nearby field.
The F-16 was on a training mission 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.