U.S. Air Force Jet Crashes Into City; 4 Dead
REMSCHEID, West Germany (AP) _ A U.S. Air Force warplane struck an apartment building and exploded in flames Thursday, killing four people, injuring more than a dozen and setting homes on fire.
″This looks like a war,″ said Johannes Rau, governor of North Rhine- Westphalia state, after touring the site of the crash.
Another official said the pilot and three people on the ground were killed.
After the initial explosion, ammunition carried on the A-10 plane continued to explode periodically, hampering rescue efforts in the central West German town, one rescuer said.
The U.S. Air Force suspended all tactical training flights in Europe until Tuesday. West German authorities asked the U.S. to halt low-level training missions until Christmas. Opposition political parties demanded a ban on low- level flights and sharp cuts in air exercises.
In Arizona, another Air Force A-10 fighter crashed Thursday near the Tohono O’Odham Indian Reservation, 80 miles west of Tucson. The pilot, who was alone in the plane, ejected safely, according to Air Force spokeswoman Carol Ann Keck.
In Washington, Air Force spokesman Maj. Mark Martens, said ″There is no information indicating a correlation between the two (crashes), and there are no plans to ground the aircraft.″
Late Thursday, firefighter Ulrich Schnell said a woman’s voice was heard from one of the destroyed houses in Remscheid, 15 miles east of Duesseldorf in a densely populated industrial area.
″Rescuers tried to get to the person but without success,″ he said, adding that rescue workers have been unable to enter some of the houses because of the fires and dangerous ammunition spewed by the crashing jet.
Schnell said rescue workers no longer were hearing the voice, but it was not known if the woman was dead.
The A-10 Thunderbolt II jet, designed to support ground forces and combat tanks, was carrying 1,000 rounds of 30mm training ammunition when it crashed, said U.S. Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Ed Neunherz.
In West Germany, witnesses said the plane flew low over a school and hit the top floor of an apartment building about 1:30 p.m. (7:30 a.m. EDT).
″My daughters were coming home from school. I heard a tremendous blast and rushed out to find them,″ said Wolfgang Guenther, who lives about 800 yards from the apartment building.
He said his teen-age daughters ″told me ... they could even see the pilot in the plane.″
″The plane rammed into a building that was right in front of them. They are home now and they are in shock,″ he said. The high school, about 1,300 yards away from the crash site, was not damaged.
There were conflicting reports on the number of dead and injured.
Police and military officials at the scene earlier told reporters six people were confirmed dead and that 40 to 50 were injured.
But Volker Acksteiner, leader of the rescue teams, said late Thursday night: ″There were four bodies. And we suppose that more dead and injured are lying in the rubble.″
Rescuers used dogs to look for possible victims or survivors.
City councilman Guenther Krug also told a news conference that four people were killed. He said 15 people were injured, including 11 in serious condition in nearby hospitals.
″It’s a horrible mess in there,″ Acksteiner said. ″The rescue was made difficult because ammunition kept exploding. It was highly dangerous.″
Krug said three buildings were destroyed, 17 others were damaged, and six houses caught fire.
He said the victims were the American pilot, two construction workers and a mailman.
The Air Force identified the dead pilot as Capt. Michael P. Foster, 34, but did not give his hometown. A statement said he was survived by his wife and two sons.
Before Thursday’s crash, 12 military airplane accidents this year had claimed 95 lives in West Germany.
Maj. Gen. Marcus A. Anderson, commander of the U.S. Third Air Force based in Mildenhall, England, told reporters at the scene that all tactical training flights would be suspended until Tuesday.
West Germany’s ARD television network said the plane was on its way to a low-level training mission when it crashed.
But U.S. Air Force Col. William Blaesing told reporters at the scene: ″It was taking part in exercises at the time of the accident, but this was not a low-flying practice, they were just flying over.″
He said the cause of the accident was being investigated.
Peter Kurt Wuerzbach, the second-ranked official in the Defense Ministry, said West German authorities were calling on their allies to halt low-level training missions until Christmas.
The area of the crash in this city of 130,000 residents was a scene of gutted buildings, burnt-out cars and thick, black smoke billowing from the rubble.
Witnesses said body parts lay on the ground and the pilot’s parachute hung from a tree about 30 yards away.
State prosecutor Joerg Bachmann, who is investigating the crash for West German authorities, said witnesses saw one of the plane’s two engines on fire shortly before impact.
A statement by the Air Force said the plane was assigned to the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing at the Royal Air Force base in Bentwaters, England. The plane was temporarily assigned to the West German air force base at Norvenich for training, said U.S. Air Force spokesman Doug Moore.
Opposition to low-level military training flights over West Germany grew in August when Italian stunt planes collided and crashed into a crowd of spectators at an air show at the U.S. Air Force Base in Ramstein, killing 70 people.