Pilot saved from power line after Belgian F-16 crashes in France

Benjamin MASSOT
Police set up a security perimeter and evacuated eight houses near the site where a Belgian F-16 fighter jet crashed in western France on Thursday. (AFP Photo/JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER )

Pluvigner (France) (AFP) - An F-16 fighter jet of the Belgian air force crashed Thursday in western France, with both pilots successfully ejecting -- but one spent two hours hanging from a power line before being cut down, officials said.

Parts from the stricken plane, which was not carrying weapons and was flying from Belgium to a French base on a training mission, crashed into houses in the Morbihan region around the town of Pluvigner. No one on the ground was hurt.

"The pilot and the co-pilot were able to eject before the crash. They were both located and are alive," the office of the state representative for the region said in a statement.

It said one pilot had been rescued but the other had become tangled with a high-voltage power line and was left hanging from his parachute.

The pilot was finally cut loose after a two-hour rescue effort, the statement said.

"It was a sensitive and long operation," senior local official Pierre Clavreuil told a news conference in Pluvigner. "It needed a lot of sangfroid," added Cyrille Berrod of the Morbihan fire brigade.

Images published in local media showed the pilot dangling from the cords attached to the parachute which had been ensnared by a cable next to the electricity pylon.

- 'State of shock' -

The plane had taken off from Belgium and was heading on a training mission to a French naval airbase close to the town of Lorient.

The Belgian air force commander Frederik Vansina told reporters in Brussels that the incident appeared to have been caused by an engine problem with the plane, which was built in 1983, but that an investigation would provide further details.

He said both pilots were in hospital but should return to their families in Belgium as soon as Thursday evening.

However, Morbihan officials told AFP that relatives of the pilots were expected to visit them in hospital during the evening.

Local security forces evacuated eight homes with a total of 15 residents. Clavreuil said one home suffered substantial damage.

"The lady in the house was in a state of shock and taken to hospital," he said.

Pluvigner resident Patrick Kauffer told the local Le Telegramme daily that the "wing of the plane took out part of the roof of our house. The damage was serious."

He said the crash also set ablaze his shed and some trees.

"I am relieved that our two pilots are safe and sound after the crash of the F-16 and there was no victim on the ground," Belgium's Foreign and Defence Minister Didier Reynders said on Twitter.

The Belgian military "will take care of them and their family. An investigation is under way," he added.