Belgian news sources reported that two aircraft technicians were injured when an F-16 fighter exploded at Florennes airbase in Namur province. The incident took place as the aircraft stood parked at the end of a runway and two other aircraft standing nearby were slightly damaged.
The first aircraft burned out completely, a spokesperson for the defence ministry said. The two technicians suffered hearing damage. Both were treated on the base itself.
The incident was caused by accidental cannon fire from another aircraft on the ground nearby, according to the Belgian Defence Ministry.
Maintenance personnel working on the other F-16 in a hangar inadvertently fired its six-barrelled 20mm Vulcan cannon at close range near two other F-16s parked outside that had been fuelled and armed for a sortie that afternoon. One of the aircraft was completely destroyed.
One defence website said the maintenance engineers must have inactivated the F-16’s fail-safe switch that prevents the use of onboard weapons when the aircraft has its landing gear down.
The cause of the explosion is being investigated, but foul play has been ruled out. The federal prosecutor’s office has visited the site of the explosion.
The base at Florennes is home to the Second Tactical Wing of the Belgian Armed Forces Air Component, with more than 20 F-16s divided into two squadrons. Four of the aircraft are currently deployed in Lithuania as part of Nato’s Baltic Air Policing mission.
The F-16 itself is an ageing aircraft, dating from 1982 to 1991, whose replacement is currently being debated. Replacement of the 54 aircraft has been budgeted at €3 billion.
One possible candidate is the US F-35 fighter, but these were grounded for inspection following a crash in South Carolina two weeks ago during an exercise. That aircraft was destined for the US Marine Corps.
The inspection affects all F-35s worldwide, including those in service with the air forces of Israel, the UK, Italy and Norway.