A U.S. Air Force jet fighter plunged into the center of this small town 60 miles south of Frankfurt Thursday, killing the pilot and at least one resident, setting homes on fire and forcing the evacuation of about 60 people.
The plane was carrying a canister of hydrazine, which forms toxic gas when mixed with water, but local officials said there was no evidence of a gas leak.Witnesses said the F-16 smashed into the roof of one home, tore the porch off another and started a ball of fire that sent residents fleeing.
"There was a crash and then a loud explosion and buildings caught fire," said Herbert Loef, a baker who lives three houses away from the street from the crash site. The plane was demolished.
Regional governor Berhard Ditteney said the body of a 60-year-old man was pulled from the rubble, and rescue workers were looking for other victims. At least one resident was injured.
It was the second crash of a military aircraft in West Germany in as many days. On Wednesday, a French Mirage jet fighter narrowly missed a nuclear power plant in Bavaria, about 185 miles east of Thursday's crash site, before crashing and burning. The pilot was killed.
Thursday's crash occurred at 10 a.m. (1 a.m. MST) in the middle of Forst, a town of 6,000 residents, police said. The pilot, whose identity was not immediately released, was the only person aboard, the Air Force said.
Wreckage was scattered over a wide area and thick black smoke billowed from the crash site, witnesses said. Three homes were destroyed and two were extensively damaged, including that of an 80-year-old woman who managed to escape unharmed when the plane hit her house, officials said.
Emergency crews evacuated more than 60 people from about 40 houses in the area, according to local police.
A spokesman at the U.S. Air Force Base at Ramstein, Doug Moore, said the jet had been declared missing after taking off from Hahn Air Force Base in the Eifel Mountains.
Lt. Col. Edward Neunherz, another base spokesman, told The Associated Press by telephone that the F-16 was on a training mission, but he had no further details.
He confirmed the plane was carrying hydrazine, which is used to refire jet engines in case of engine failure. But Neunherz added, "That gas disperses easily in the event of an accident."
Norbert Scharer, spokesman for police in nearby Karlsruhe, said there was no evidence to indicate any toxic gas was released.
Scharer said he was told by American authorities that the plane was carrying 500 rounds of practice ammunition but no live ammunition.
The F-16 was part of the 50th Tactical Fighter Wing, Neunherz said.