An F-16 military fighter jet was armed before it crashed into a Riverside County commercial building, officials said Friday, and the unexploded weaponry has since been detonated.
The jet was flying with a standard armament package. The weaponry has been secured, and TV news helicopters captured video of the ordnance being blown up in a nearby field, allowing the 215 Freeway to reopen Friday afternoon.
There was no smoke or fire from the crash, or serious injuries. The plane went down just before 3:45 p.m. Thursday. Ten people, including some first responders, were treated in an emergency room and released, including some who were decontaminated after they were exposed to fumes and debris at the crash scene.
Three other people were taken to a hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, said physicians at Riverside University Health System in Moreno Valley.
“In light of the event, we feel very fortunate and blessed,” said Dr. Michael Mesisca, medical director for the hospital’s emergency department. The hospital, which trains for the possibility of crashes at March Air Reserve Base, had been preparing for a much greater catastrophe — perhaps more than 50 patients — in the moments after hearing about the crash.
“It was an event that we all planned for, and we all work toward and hope that never happens,” said Leah Patterson, associate clinical nursing officer. “Thank God for the outcome.”
A fire official said he couldn’t recall a crash at March Air Reserve Base in the last 29 years.
The jet crashed into the roof of the See Water Inc. warehouse at 22200 Opportunity Way, just west of the airfield at March Air Reserve Base and adjacent to the 215 Freeway and Metrolink train tracks between the Moreno Valley/March Field and downtown Perris stations. The freeway and the Metrolink tracks around the crash site had been ordered closed until the jet’s weapons were found and detonated.
Authorities said circuit boards are manufactured in the building into which the jet crashed.
Military officials said the jet, a single-engine Fighting Falcon, was returning to March Air Reserve Base in Moreno Valley after a routine training mission when it slammed into the building.
The pilot had reported hydraulics problems and said he was returning to base, just across the freeway from the warehouse, when he was forced to eject moments before impact, authorities said. Captured by a freeway commuter’s dashboard camera, the jet appeared to be leaning to one side as it dropped to the ground outside the base.
The jet, assigned to the 114th Fighter Wing in Sioux Falls, S.D., was on a training mission for North American Aerospace Defense Command, according to the U.S. Air Force.
The pilot, who has not been identified publicly, landed with a parachute in a nearby airfield. He was taken to a hospital and is in good condition, Col. Thomas McNamara, vice commander of the 452nd Air Mobility Wing at the base, said during an earlier news conference Friday morning.
The crash ruptured the building’s sprinkler system, and water was raining down when law enforcement and fire officials arrived.
Timothy Holliday, the base’s deputy fire chief, said Thursday that authorities set up a perimeter while they secured the live ordnance the jet was carrying.
Several businesses surrounding the crash site were evacuated as a precaution because of possible hazardous materials, officials said. The evacuation area encompassed a three-quarter-mile radius around the warehouse. Nearby Riverside National Cemetery was closed Friday, but no residential homes were affected, officials said.
A person who was in the industrial building when the plane crashed recorded the immediate aftermath on camera and published it on Facebook.
“Holy … dude. That’s a … airplane; that’s a military airplane in our building,” he said, using expletives.
Images from the scene broadcast by news stations showed a sizable hole in the building’s roof. A photo from inside the building, which was loaded with pallets of boxes and other items, showed the aircraft’s wreckage amid the debris.
Baldur Castro, an employee at the warehouse, told KTLA-TV Channel 5 that he’s used to hearing jets working so close to the military base, but the sound from the crash was thunderous.
“To me, it sounded like breaking the sound barrier,” he said.
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