A DEADLY Apache gunship fired its cannon by mistake close to homes and offices – sparking a major safety investigation.
The British Army chopper was grounded when its chain gun erupted on Tuesday, firing an explosive shell into a swathe of residential countryside in Suffolk.A British Army chopper mistakenly fired its cannon close to homes in Suffolk on TuesdayCredit: Handout The chopper fires bullets the width of milk bottle capsCredit: Ministry of Defence The craft is based at the RAF's Wattisham Flying StationCredit: JOHN McLELLAN
The massive 30mm cannon – which fires bullets as big as milk bottle caps – has a range of 2.5miles.
The chopper was taking part in live firing training exercise when it suffered a malfunction and was forced to land at the MoD's Sculthorpe range in Norfolk.
The pilots flew back to their base at Wattisham, in Suffolk, where the chopper was due to be repaired.
Specialist weapons technicians were working in the gun when it let off a stray round.
"It sounded like an explosion. The soldiers dived for cover," a source said.
Troops spent hours combing farms and nearby villages but are yet to find where the bullet landed.
AH-46 attack helicopters, like the ones Prince Harry flew in Afghanistan, routinely carry Hellfire missiles and exploding shells.
But they are banned from carrying ammunition when they are flying over Britain, unless they are over a live firing range.
“A soldier gets fined a month’s wages if they fire their rifle by mistake, but this is a lot more serious,” the source added.
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.
A defence source said the gun was loaded with practise shells, which are cheaper and slightly less deadly than the armour piercing kind.
“A 30mm round will still spoil your day, whatever kind it is,” a source said.
“And it is not going to stop until it hits something.”
Defence investigators have impounded the Apache and they have downloaded its compute data to try and locate the round.
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).
“The crew were supposed to have cleared all the weapons,” a source said.
“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.”
In May an Apache helicopter came within 150ft of colliding with a civilian air ambulance while taking off from Wattisham.
The two aircraft were travelling at more than 100mph when the near-miss happened.
An official report revealed the Army pilot of the Apache was setting off when they came within 300ft of each other.
In 1985 a Hawk trainer taking off from Wattisham developed a fault and ploughed through the roof of a thatched cottage near the end of the runway. No-one was hurt in the accident but the aircraft was a write-off and repairs to the house added up to a five-figure sum.An investigation into the incident is now underwayCredit: Alamy