RIVERSIDE, Cal. (ABC News) – The F-16 fighter jet that crashed into a warehouse next to March Air Reserve Base in Southern California on Thursday was armed with live ammunition it needed as part of its NORAD alert mission, according to a defense official.
The weapons aboard the fighter jet have now been secured and will be disposed of, the official said.
No one was killed in Thursday’s crash but 12 people in the warehouse received treatment for minor injuries. The pilot of the F-16 jet was able to eject safely before the plane struck a commercial warehouse located close to the airbase’s runway.
The aircraft did not explode on impact even though the aircraft was armed with live munitions and any fire that may have occurred was suppressed by the warehouse’s sprinkler system.
“The NORAD alert aircraft was flying with a standard armament configuration as part of its Operation Noble Eagle commitments,” a defense official said, referring to the name of the NORAD alert mission to protect the nation’s skies following the 9/11 attacks.
The types of munitions aboard the aircraft could not be disclosed due to operational security commitments, the official said.
But the “armament has been secured and will be disposed of in accordance with Air Force policies and regulations,” said the official.
Though capable of carrying two bombs, the F-16 would likely only carry air-to-air missiles like the AIM-9 sidewinder missile and AIM-120 AMRAAM for an alert mission.
“Every effort is being made to ensure that the public’s safety is being met,” Col. Tom McNamara, the vice commander of the 452nd Air Mobility Wing at March Air Reserve Base, said at a news conference Friday.
“Due to the nature of this type of an incident the recovery process is extremely involved,” he added. “Our [explosive ordnance] disposal team is on site and is working through the situation at this time.”
There were 12 minor injuries caused by debris in the building, according to Capt. Fernando Herrera from Cal Fire and the Riverside County Fire Department. People who worked in the building were evacuated, according to officials.
“Every pilot that flies a fighter aircraft that has an ejection seat has to make that decision before they even start that jet up: When am I going to eject? and not to wait too long to know when the airplane is no longer flyable and they need to get out,” said retired Col. Steve Ganyard, former deputy assistant secretary of state and ABC News contributor.
The unit flying the alert mission is a combination of pilots and aircraft from California and South Dakota Air National Guard units.
The pilot belongs to the 144th Fighter Wing of the California Air National Guard. The aircraft is part of the South Dakota Air National Guard in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
As a precaution, a part of Highway 215 that abuts the base has been closed.