Stealth fighter crashes at show

A United States Air Force F-117A Stealth fighter broke up and crashed into three houses in Maryland yesterday, after the pilot ejected from the aircraft during an air show, the Defense Department said last night.

Four people on the ground suffered minor injuries after pieces of the aircraft plunged into the houses.

Amateur video showed parts of the plane breaking off as it started to climb after flying level over the airfield outside Baltimore.

The plane then tumbled and rolled, trailing smoke and other material, the videoptape showed. A sharp explosion marked the pilot's ejection and the plane then tumbled straight to the ground. Local emergency officials said there were no fatalities.

"It occurred during a flyover at an air show," Defense Department spokesman Ken Bacon said. "The pilot is undergoing emergency treatment."

Mr Bacon said the black aircraft, designed to evade radar detection, crashed about 3pm. EDT (1900 GMT), about a mile south-east of Martin state airport, which is about 13 miles east of Baltimore.

Captain Keri Humphrey, an Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon, said the pilot of the downed aircraft had parachuted safely and was being taken to the Andrews Air Force Base in the Washington suburb of Maryland for observation.

Four people on the ground - one man and three women - sustained minor injuries, said Steve Gisriel, a captain with Baltimore County's fire department.

The crash occurred as the plane was performing at the annual Chesapeake Air Show, he said. "It was doing a fly-by for the crowd and suddenly crashed," he said.

The aircraft, which was carrying 4,990kg of fuel, exploded, destroying a house, a garage and two motor vehicles, and damaging two other homes, Mr Gisriel said. "It could have been a lot worse." he added. "It went down in a quiet area."