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Training flight halt sought after school strafed

A New Jersey senator called on a National Guard unit Friday to suspend training flights over New Jersey until it figures out why the pilot of an F-16 fighter strafed a school with cannon fire.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Sen. Frank Lautenberg called on a National Guard unit Friday to halt all training flights over New Jersey until it determines why an F-16 fighter pilot strafed a school with cannon fire during a night mission.

The New Jersey Democrat called the pilot’s actions “totally incomprehensible” and demanded a “guarantee that nothing like this can ever happen again.”

National Guard officials are trying to figure out why the pilot opened fire on the Little Egg Harbor Intermediate School from 7,000 feet with 25 rounds from a wing-mounted M61-A1 Vulcan cannon. The pilot, who was not identified by the military, was supposed to be aiming at a target on a practice range 3½ miles away.

Operations at the firing range have been halted while the incident is investigated.

At least eight of the 2-inch-long bullets penetrated classrooms, Police Chief Mark Siino said. The rounds also punctured the school’s roof, knocked down ceiling tiles and scratched the pavement.

A custodian was the only employee in the section of the building that was hit; she was not hurt.

The school was closed Thursday and Friday because of a teachers convention.

The jet belongs to the 113th Wing of the District of Columbia National Guard and is based at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.

Army Maj. Sheldon Smith, a spokesman for the District of Columbia National Guard, said of Lautenberg’s request, “I think we have suspended flying over there until this investigation is complete.”

Smith could not say how long that would take.

“They’re going to be looking at the gun and anything else they can to determine why the weapon fired, as well as interviewing the pilot,” he said. “We want to make sure that if there is a problem we correct it right away.”

Smith said this was the unit’s first accident with its F-16s in 14 years of flying them.

The 113th has been in the air over Washington 24 hours a day since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Some of its pilots have flown missions during the Iraq war and in the no-fly zones above Iraq before the war, Smith said.