One witness saw a "burst of flames" before the "ceiling started falling through every part of the building"

By Char Adams
May 17, 2019 12:05 PM

Authorities are investigating after an F-16 fighter jet crashed Thursday into a California warehouse, leaving a large hole in the roof and the pilot hospitalized, reports say.

The jet smashed into the warehouse near the March Air Reserve Base in Perris around 3:30 p.m., according to KABC. Footage from the Associated Press showed a hole in the roof of the warehouse, where debris and water from the building’s sprinkler system covered the floor.

“It was almost to the point where I had to cover my ears, and next thing you know I just hear this explosion,” witness Daniel Gallegos said, according to KABC. “I turn around to the back of the building and I just [saw] a burst of flames and just the ceiling started falling through every part of the building. In a matter of seconds, my ankles were [covered] with water.”

Base spokesman Reggie Varner told CNN that a hydraulic failure led to the crash. Maj. Perry Covington said the pilot ejected just off the end of the runway before the jet collided with the building, according to CNN. He was taken to a local hospital with minor injuries, Covington told the site.

Mike Johnson — CEO of See Water, the company in the warehouse — told CNN that all employees in the building at the time are safe.

“Thank God everyone is safe and okay,” Johnson said in a statement. “We’ll have to see what this means for the company, but right now our concern is with our employees and their families.”

The building was evacuated and 12 people were treated and cleaned of debris before being taken from the scene, Capt. Fernando Herrera with Cal Fire and the Riverside County Fire Department told KABC. There were no major injuries.

One video showed the jet barreling into the building, while another, shared by The Guardian, showed the aftermath of the crash. The sprinkler system doused a small fire started as a result of the crash and a specialized team will work to secure the jet, the Associated Press reported.

“As long as the aircraft is here, we are considering it a viable and dangerous area and we’re taking the precautions necessary,” Herrera said Thursday night.

The crash happened during a training mission under the North American Aerospace Defense Command, and March Air Reserve Base Deputy Fire Chief Timothy Holliday called the pilot’s survival “a miracle.”

“The pilot was having hydraulic problems,” Holliday told the AP. “He started losing control of the aircraft.”