A U.S. Air Force pilot safely landed their F-16C Fighting Falcon jet in Italy after suffering an in-flight emergency on Wednesday afternoon, prompting buildings near the runway to lock down.
“Aviano Air Base’s emergency response teams responded and secured the area. All other base operations have returned to normal,” spokesperson Natalie Stanley said in an email Friday. She did not provide details on the nature of the problem or whether the pilot or plane were injured.
Screenshots of a base alert posted to social media on Wednesday warned all employees and work centers facing the flightline, “including sierra, zulu and tango loop,” to shelter in place.
The airman who declared the emergency is part of Aviano’s 31st Fighter Wing, the only U.S. Air Force fighter wing in Europe south of the Alps. It oversees two F-16 squadrons, the 555th “Triple Nickel” Fighter Squadron and the 510th Fighter Squadron, that are key to protecting NATO’s southern region. It’s unclear which squadron the pilot was assigned to.
The 555th is currently supporting NATO’s air policing mission to fend off Russian pilots who behave erratically in or near the airspace of allied countries. More than 100 combat aircraft from the United States and Europe are flying nonstop patrols over NATO nations to protect Russia’s war in Ukraine from spilling over into their territory.
Around 340 F-16s have been destroyed in mishaps since 1975, with 131 fatalities, according to the Air Force Safety Center. Three of the jets were in accidents in fiscal 2021, including one that was destroyed and its pilot killed.
Rachel Cohen joined Air Force Times as senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), the Washington Post, and others.