National Guard says training exercises behind mystery 'boom'

This is the location where some of the activity was reported.
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Cat Andersen/Eyewitness News

Howard County - The Indiana Air National guard says its F-16 fighter jets may have caused loud booms and strings of flare-like lights that lit up the night sky two nights in a row over north-central Indiana.

The calls started pouring in to the Howard County dispatch center around 10:30 pm Wednesday night. Residents reported a loud boom shaking houses from Cass County to Tipton. The sightings of a fiery glow that followed sent responders on a search for the cause.

"When I ran out the door there was a ball of flames shooting everywhere," said one caller.

Initially emergency responders thought there had been an explosion. Some residents believed a plane had crashed.

Numerous callers to the Channel 13 newsroom reported that a loud explosion shook homes in the area shortly around 10:30 p.m. near US 31 and CR 300 North, close to the town of Sharpsville near the Tipton-Howard County line.

"There was a plane that blew up over between Kokomo and Russiaville. My neighbors and I saw it go down after we all came out of our houses because it sounded like someone landing on our roof. It was a big explosion," wrote viewer Glenda Delon in an e-mail to WTHR.

"We heard the explosion; it shook our house," wrote viewer Ray Brown in another e-mail. "We saw the fireball over our house, northwest of Sycamore Street and Dixon Road."

"I thought something had hit my building. I thought it was a truck or something," said one resident.

"When you see something at high altitude and traveling at high speed, it's very difficult to estimate where that object is relative to your position," said Howard County Sheriff Marshall Talbert.

Finding no wreckage or evidence of a crash, authorities assumed it was a meteor shower.

On Thursday, police learned that F-16 fighter pilots from the Indiana Air National Guard base in Fort Wayne were training right over their heads.

"Right now we are just getting in to what's called air combat training which involves multiple number of aircraft flying either against each other or with each other trying to effectively defend a point or to shoot down other aircraft," Col. Jeff Soldner, 122nd Fighter Wing commander.

Those exercises explain the loud booming noise heard around 10:30 pm Tuesday in Logansport and at the same Wednesday night in Howard and Tipton Counties.

"The boom that I think occurred last night was a sonic boom. That occurs when the aircraft passes the speed of sound when airborne," said Col. Soldner.

The military says that sonic boom shouldn't have happened. "In this case, it distinctly pointed at one of our aircraft that was at about the location where the explosion was heard," said Col. Soldner.

The military's explanation was met by the public 24 hours later with relief and a hefty dose of anger.

"I don't think they need to be doing those exercises at ten o'clock at night, especially in Kokomo, Indiana, when it's out of Fort Wayne in a residential area," said Scott Phillips, Kokomo resident.

"Especially for me, I got heart problems and stuff, see all this going on not knowing what it is," said Cyndi Gordon, Kokomo resident.

Col. Soldner said the flares were also part of the training mission.

"These are defensive flares that are ejected from the aircraft when the pilot thinks he's being shot at. It's meant to deflect an IR-guided missile," said Col. Soldner.

Admitting that its jet shouldn't have gone supersonic, creating the sonic boom that rattled homes and nerves, the military promises an internal investigation. The Guard also plans to notify police agencies of any further nighttime training missions.

This clip purports to show military exercises over Kokomo last month.

The Guard issued the following release late Thursday:

Indiana National Guard takes responsibility for recent night time disturbances in the Logansport and Kokomo areas.

Loud noises reported by citizens in northern Indiana accompanied by flashes of light and what appeared to be falling debris early this week were a result of training conducted by Indiana National Guard F-16 Aircraft, headquartered at Ft. Wayne's 122nd Fighter Wing.

The Indiana Air National Guard conducts training missions on a daily basis.

All of our military members including our pilots and crewmembers require the most realistic training possible for their own safety and those they work to protect.

F-16 aircraft routinely train with the countermeasure Chaffe-flare system which draws heat-seeking missiles away from the aircraft exhaust.  It was the night time engagement of this system that resulted in the "strings of lights" reported by citizens. 

The flares were released above 10,000 feet in accordance with the long-standing guidance for the Hilltop Military Operations Area (MOA) that extends from Grissom Air Reserve Base to West Lafayette and includes Logansport, 30 miles north of Indianapolis bordering Kokomo. The area is not designated for "super-sonic" flight.
"I have ordered a thorough investigation to be conducted into why the incident took place.  I have also ordered that our Flying Squadron conduct a complete review of the tactics that were in practice at the time.  We will insure that our pilots review airspeed restrictions in all of our practice flight training areas, and that these restrictions are briefed prior to each flight," said Colonel Jeffery Soldner, Commander of the 122nd Fighter Wing.