KARLSRUHE, West Germany -- Two Canadian Air Force jets on a training mission collided in mid-air over a West German city Tuesday, leaving one pilot dead and at least one civilian on the ground severely injured, officials said.
Police and defense officials said the two Hornet F-18 fighter jets were flying at an altitude of about 1,000 feet when they collided about 4 p.m. over the central city of Karlsruhe and tumbled to Earth.
One pilot was killed and the other, who managed to bail out, was severely wounded, as was a civilian in Karlsruhe, officials said.
They said the burning wreckage of the one-seater jets set several downtown buildings on fire, but that fire brigades managed to put out the flames within an hour of the crash.
Shortly after the accident, rescue officials said at least 20 people had been injured but police said later only one civilian and the one pilot, who landed by parachute on a highway, were hurt in the accident.
The charred body of the other pilot was found on the roadside near the center of town.
A Karlsruhe resident said debris smashed to the ground outside of his apartment and an ejectible seat was reportedly found in a downtown schoolyard.
'My God, what would have happened if the wreckage had fallen just about 100 meters further, on the kindergarten,' said a 35-year-old neighbor of the school.
'Karlsruhe has had luck,' a police official said as helicopters hovered above the city, trying to spot the scattered wreckage of the aircraft.
Canadian military sources said the planes, called CF-18s in Canada and slightly modified for the country's air force, had been flying at 10,000 feet, not 1,000 feet.
A Canadian Army spokesman, Maj. John Paul Macdonald, said in Toronto that the crash occurred on a 'routine training mission' and that a military board would investigate the accident.
Military spokesmen said Canadian F-18's have been involved in 12 crashes that have killed seven pilots in the past three years.
The names of the victims were being witheld pending notification of their families.
A witness said the turbine of one of the two jets crashed onto a gas station, while other aircraft parts were scattered around a nearby railroad depot.
Officials at the West German defense ministry said both planes took off from the Soellingen air base in central West Germany. More than 5,000 Canadian troops are stationed in West Germany, including about 760 members of the 1st Canadian Air Group based at Soellingen.
The Canadian air force has used the F-18 aircraft since 1987. F-18 jets are built by the McDonald-Douglas Corp. and can carry nuclear missiles. But officials said they did not know whether the planes that crashed Tuesday carried any weapons or ammunition.
Officials said they were still investigating the cause of the collision.
It was not immediately clear whether the aircraft were on a low-level training flights, which are the subject of a major controversy in West Germany following a series of crashes in recent years.
In August 1988, 70 people were killed and 400 others injured at an air show at the U.S. Ramstein Air Base when three Italian fighter jets collided, one of them plowing through a crowd of 300,000 spectators.
More than 200 people have been killed in military air crashes over West Germany in the past 30 years. Official figures show more than 450 West German aircraft and over 230 from allied forces have crashed over West German territory since the end of World War II.