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F-16 jet was armed when it crashed near March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, official says

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RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) — The F-16 jet that crashed into a building near March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County was armed with live ammunition needed for its NORAD alert mission, a defense official said Friday.

The aircraft was flying with a “standard armament configuration,” according to the official who could not provide details on the contents of the package due to operational security commitments. The armament had been secured and will be disposed of in accordance with Air Force policies and regulations this afternoon, officials said.

The pilot, who was the only occupant of the aircraft and has not been identified, was ejected before the crash Thursday and safely landed at the airfield near Cactus Avenue and Meridian Parkway where a parachute was spotted. He was said to be in “good” condition.

At an afternoon press conference, Michael Messisca of the Riverside University Health System said 13 adult patients were received after the incident. Three were “trauma activation patients.” Those three were admitted to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries and are currently stable. The other 10 were treated for fume and debris exposure and discharged in good condition, some of them were first responders, officials said.

At an earlier press conference, U.S. Air Force officials provided very few details, only saying that clean-up efforts and the investigation are ongoing. The Air Force’s Explosive Ordnance Team was on scene at the crash site.

Firefighters responded to the wreck at about 3:40 p.m. Thursday. The aircraft crashed at the end of the runway and into a warehouse, where the building’s sprinkler system was set off. A CAL FIRE chief said despite initial reports, a small fire did not ignite.

No fatalities were reported.

Images from AIR7 HD showed a large hole on the roof of the building. Capt. Fernando Herrera with Cal Fire and the Riverside County Fire Department said the first fire unit to arrive confirmed the military aircraft crashed into the tilt-up building.

Authorities conducted a search and the people inside the building were evacuated.

Fire officials and other agencies worked together to extend an evacuation zone to about 4,000 feet from the area of impact. Officials said the 215 Freeway will remain closed until further notice between the Cactus Avenue and Harley Knox Boulevard exits. A California Department of Transportation spokesperson urged drivers to avoid the area as traffic on surrounding roadways had become backed up since the crash as drivers sought alternate routes.

A photo from inside the building appears to show part of the plane sticking out of the rubble. Jeff Schoffstall said he was working when he heard the plane come dangerously low to the ground before it made a loud noise. He posted video from inside the building.

Another employee talked about witnessing the aftermath of the crash.

“It was almost to the point where I had to cover my ears, and next thing you know I just hear this explosion,” said witness Daniel Gallegos. “I turn around to the back of the building and I just seen a burst of flames and just the ceiling start falling through every part of the building. In a matter of seconds, my ankles were filled with water.”

In a brief statement, officials said the pilot was conducting a training mission for North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD.
The pilot is part of the 144th Fighter Wing, an Air National Guard unit based in Fresno.

The aircraft belongs to the South Dakota Air National Guard in Sioux Falls. The United States Air Force Reserve said in a press release that the plane was conducting a training mission for NORAD at the time.

An investigation into the cause of the crash is ongoing.

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