Jet Fighter Crashes Into Coffeehouse, 14 Killed
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) _ An air force jet fighter crashed into a coffeehouse in the western city Balikesir on Thursday and exploded, starting a fire that raced though a score of shops. Officials said 14 people were killed and 21 injured.
One of the jet’s two crew members was among those killed, but the other bailed out when the F-104 Starfighter caught fire during a routine training flight, according to state radio and news agency reports.
The jet crashed about 300 yards from a school filled with about 1,500 students, the news agency Anatolia said.
The semi-official agency also reported that a greater death toll was averted because a meeting of 150 people scheduled for the coffeehouse was canceled earlier in the day.
The coffee house was on the outskirts of Balikesir, surrounded by furniture-making and carpentry shops, provincial governor Bayram Ozen said in a telephone interview.
Mohammed Karol, a furniture-maker who survived, said: ″I heard people screaming for help, saying they were on fire. I started running and then passed out. I was in hospital when I came to.″
Mustafa Aydin, a carpenter, said: ″Fire was everywhere. I heard a tremendous noise. I didn’t know what happened. I thought perhaps it was an earthquake, but soon flames engulfed the shop.″
Ozen said four of the injured people were in critical condition and were flown to Ankara for treatment. He said rescue workers had finished clearing away the rubble and no other bodies had been found.
Balikesir’s district attorney, Teoman Meteoglu, said the bodies of the victims were so badly burned that only four had been identified. He said the fire destroyed 20 shops.
Radio and news reports quoted air force officials as saying the fighter took off from an airbase near Balikesir at 10:40 a.m. and caught fire about 25 minutes later because of a mechanical failure they did not specify.
Turkey’s F-104 fighters are old and the air force is short of spare parts for them. Crashes are fairly common, but most are not publicly reported.
The F-104 was designed by Lockheed Aircraft Corp., which built it in the United States, and made its first flight in 1954.
Other versions of the plane were produced in several foreign countries under license. It has not been in use by the U.S. Air Force for many years.