HILL AIR FORCE BASE — A rented vehicle that wasn't supposed to be destroyed by an F-16's 20 mm Gatling-style cannon is now part of an investigation into why a jet from Hill's 388th Fighter Wing shot up the vehicle in an April 8 training accident that left two soldiers with slight injuries.

The soldiers were inside the vehicle at the Utah Test and Training Range conducting close-air support exercises when the vehicle took fire at about 11 p.m. from an F-16 that was participating in the exercise.

"Fortunately, the soldiers were not hit with the munitions but were injured as they evacuated the vehicle," said 388th Fighter Wing public affairs officer 1st Lt. Beth Woodward. She said she did not know whether the two bailed out of the vehicle before or after it started taking rounds from the fighter jet flying overhead.

"The vehicle was destroyed by the F-16's munitions," Woodward said. "Military ground vehicles from the range fire department transported the soldiers to the Tooele hospital immediately following the incident. Training with these JTACs (Joint Tactical Air Controllers) was immediately halted to focus on providing care to the soldiers and examining how the incident happened."

"Investigators brought in by the 388th (Fighter Wing) Commander, Col. Scott Dennis, will determine how the incident happened to prevent similar occurrences on the range."

The wing has temporarily closed training in the area of the range where the mishap occurred while it conducts an investigation. Woodward said few details will be available until the investigation is complete, which could take one to two months. The investigation team consists of Air Force experts from the 388th and from outside the wing.

Questions to the Air Force that will have to wait for answers include information about whether the vehicle was where it was supposed to be during the live-fire exercise and what the F-16 pilot believed he was shooting at.

The soldiers who were injured were visiting the range from Fort Lewis, Wash. Army spokesman Joe Piek said the two "are back at Fort Lewis, back with their unit and have been returned to duty."

"Their injuries were minor — some scrapes and cuts. One soldier's shoulder was hit pretty hard," Piek said.

"We train as we fight. If you've been around this business for any time you know that soldiering is dangerous," Piek said. "Sometimes accidents do still occur. We're very happy that we're talking about soldiers with minor injuries."

Piek added that the close-fire training "is critical training for our soldiers and it is part of our wartime mission."

"Close air support is a complex mission," said Dennis, the F-16 wing commander. "During training, our pilots navigate the UTTR's desert terrain and simulated roads and buildings with the help of JTACs for realistic practice before deployment to a combat zone.

"While warfighting is a dangerous line of work, we take exhaustive measures to train safely and smartly in preparation for our combat deployments," Dennis said.

E-mail: sfidel@desnews.com