An Apache gunship let off its cannon near homes and offices in what could have been a fatal mistake.
The British Army has launched a major safety investigation into why the chain gun on one of its helicopters erupted over residential Suffolk countryside on Tuesday.
The chopper was being used in a live firing training exercise when its massive 30mm cannon malfunctioned and was forced to land at the MoD's Sculthorpe range in Norfolk.
Pilots on board the helicopter, which shoots bullets the size of milk bottle caps cover distances of 2.5 miles, flew it back to their base at Wattisham, in Suffolk, for repairs.
Specialist weapons technicians were working on the gun when it let off a stray round which was being searched for by troops in nearby farms and villages.
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A source told The Sun : "It sounded like an explosion. The soldiers dived for cover.
“A soldier gets fined a month’s wages if they fire their rifle by mistake, but this is a lot more serious.”
AH-46 attack helicopters, like the ones Prince Harry flew in Afghanistan, routinely carry Hellfire missiles and exploding shells but only ever in Britain, when flying over a live firing range.
The Apache was taking part a live firing exercise, codenamed Grey Eagle, when the cannon jammed over Sulthorpe.
The pilots landed to disarm, then flew 80 miles south to Wattisham.
The chopper had spent a night in a hangar and had just been wheeled onto the apron when the negligent discharge occurred.
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A defence source said the gun was loaded with practise shells, which are cheaper and slightly less deadly than the armour piercing kind.
A source said: “A 30mm round will still spoil your day, whatever kind it is, and it is not going to stop until it hits something.”
An investigation has now been launched by the Ministry of Defence which has impounded the Apache to download its data to try and locate the round fired in error.
They are also grilling troops on how the chopper was still armed when it reached a built-up area.
A source said the Army Air Corps had handed the aircraft over to weapons repair specialists from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (Reme).
A source said: “The crew were supposed to have cleared all the weapons.
“The ammo counter said there was a round still in the canon’s chamber but they thought it was wrong so they reset it. Then suddenly it went off.”
The MoD said there no reports of any injuries or damage.
A spokesman said: “We are aware of an incident at Wattisham Flying Station which is being investigated.”
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