By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – An F-16 fighter jet being flown in routine training exercises crashed into a warehouse just outside March Air Reserve Base in Southern California on Thursday, the pilot ejected and five people on the ground were reported injured, military officials said.
The extent of the injuries was unclear and the pilot was reportedly “transported to a local hospital for evaluation,” officials with the United States Air Force Reserve said in a release late Thursday.
Earlier it was stated by officials that there were no reported injuries.
The fighter jet was assigned to the 114th Fighter Wing, Souix Falls, South Dakota and was conducting a training mission for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), officials said.
The Los Angeles Times, citing a base fire official, reported that the crash ignited a small fire, and a photo of the accident scene posted on local television station KCAL-TV showed a gaping hole in the roof of a large gray building.
The warplane went down at about 3:30 p.m. Pacific Time and slammed into a warehouse at the end of the base runway, base spokesman Major Perry Covington told Reuters by telephone.
“The pilot did eject and the pilot is OK,” he said, adding he did not believe anyone was inside the warehouse when the crash occurred.
The sprawling installation, located in Riverside County, California, about 65 miles (105 km) east of Los Angeles, is home to the Air Force Reserve 452nd Air Mobility Wing. There are normally between 2,000 and 6,000 Air Force reservists and other personnel on base at any given time, Covington said.
A section of Interstate 215, a major north-south route running through the base, was closed in both directions after the crash, according to the California Highway Patrol. The CHP urged motorists to avoid the area.
NORAD operations are designed to protect the air space of both the U.S. and Canada and draws forces from both countries.
Officials said that the cause of the crash is under investigation.
(This story corrects “after” to “before” in headline)
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Sandra Maler and Peter Cooney)