A U.S. Air Force jet carrying ammunition slammed into a residential area here Thursday, setting buildings and homes on fire. Police said at least five people were killed and dozens injured.
Rescue officials said the death toll could rise. Authorities were fighting flames as they tried to reach the scene of the crash.The A-10 Thunderbolt II jet, a plane designed to support ground forces, was carrying 1,000 rounds of 30-mm training ammunition, said U.S. Air Force spokesman Lt. Col. Ed Neunherz.
He said the ammunition could explode on impact. Local officials said there were several explosions after the crash and that they believed the blasts were caused by the ammunition. There was no word on the fate of the pilot, Neunherz told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
The crash was likely to increase public opposition to low-level military training flights over West Germany. That opposition 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.
Since March 31, there have been 12 military air crashes in West Germany.
Police said in a statement that the number of known dead in Thursday's accident was five. The ARD and ZDF television networks also reported that five bodies were pulled from the burning rubble in the central West German city.
Reinhard Fleischmann, a spokesman for Remscheid, said between 40 to 50 people were injured, many of them seriously.
"We haven't even reached the aircraft. It's still wedged into a burning house," Fleischmann said.
A witness, quoted on local radio station WDR, said: "A bright orange fireball went up. The aircraft slammed into a house about 50 meters (55 yards) in front of me. Then there were explosions."
The witness, who was not identified by name, said flames engulfed nearby houses and motor vehicles. The witness said he spotted the pilot's parachute hanging from a tree about 30 yards away from the scene.
Hundreds of rescue workers rushed to the scene of panic and chaos in Remscheid, located near Duesseldorf in the densely populated industrial area.
Doug Moore, spokesman at the U.S. Air Force headquarters in Ramstein, said in a telephone interview that the jet was assigned to the 81st Tactical Fighter Wing at the Royal Air Force base in Bentwaters, England. But he said the one-man plane was temporarily assigned to a base in West Germany for training.
Ralf Berghaus, Remscheid police spokesman, told the AP that six multifamily homes were in flames and "body pieces are lying around." He said, "There were several ammunition explosions after the crash."
A local radio station said there was fog in the area at the time of the accident, which occurred at approximately 1:30 p.m. (7:30 a.m. EST).
Remscheid, with a population of 130,000, is located 15 miles east of Duesseldorf.
Jane's Defense Weekly has said the NATO air forces, excluding Turkey, lost 97 combat planes in the 12-month period to Oct. 31. The U.S. Air Force lost 40 combat planes, including 20 F-16s, seven F-4s and 5 A-7s, Jane's said.