Jettisoned munitions, fuel tanks recovered after HAFB explosion

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HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- Officials at Hill Air Force Base say they have accounted for all munitions and fuel tanks jettisoned from an F-16 Thursday evening.

They had been in search of a second munition, or bomb, after one hit an empty shack on the base, causing explosion that knocked out power and forced the evacuation of employees.

Base officials say the tanks and remaining munitions were found in a remote, uninhabited area on the northwest side of the base. Hill explosive ordnance experts are now assessing the best method to recover the munitions.

The fuel tanks and munitions were jettisoned from the F-16 after it experienced what was described as having an "in-flight emergency."

Weber county resident Krista Gardner was playing with her daughter in her front yard when she heard the F-16 flying nearby. She watched, stunned, as two smoking objects fell toward what she thought could be homes or the freeway.

"I was afraid for the people on the ground. I thought that it was going to hit some homes," Krista Gardner says.

Luckily, the F-16 pilot was able to veer his aircraft away from homes, base buildings and Interstate 15 before he dropped the fuel tanks and munitions.

Col. Scott J. Zobrist, commander of the 388th Fighter Wing at the base, says the pilot was experienced and followed proper procedures, "which involve jettisoning the stores in order for him to reduce ... his gross weight so he can land safely on the base."

The pilot was able to land safely, and Zobrist says both fuel tanks, weighing about 300 gallons each, were found shortly thereafter.

One of the munitions caused an explosion on impact and knocked out power on one-third of the base. Bomb crews did eventually locate the second munition and are now trying to figure out the best way to remove it safely.

They say they're still investigating what went wrong during the routine flight.

A stretch of Interstate 15 near the base was briefly shut down in both directions, as was the base's West Gate, but officials say both the freeway and the gate are now operating as normal.

In December 2008 an F-16 pilot jettisoned two fuel tanks over the Great Salt Lake. The pilot dropped the tanks onto a mud flat north of Antelope Island after the plane's sensors indicated a fire shortly after takeoff. The pilot landed safely.

The 18-foot-long tanks were each capable of carrying 370 gallons of fuel. They were about two-thirds full when they were dropped, Hill Air Force Base officials said at the time.


Story compiled with contributions from Jennifer Stagg, Paul Nelson and The Associated Press.

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