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Tue, Nov 28, 2006

Officials: Pilot Of Downed F-16 Still Missing In Iraq

Fighter Was Strafing Insurgents

The whereabouts and condition of a US Air Force pilot whose F-16 crashed outside Baghdad Monday are still unknown, according to military sources.

The F-16CG fighter, flying for the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing out of Balad Air Base, crashed Monday afternoon approximately 20 miles northwest of Baghdad, in an area near Fallujah officials say was teeming with insurgent activity. The plane was engaged in low-level strafing runs to support troops on the ground when it went down for as-yet unknown reasons.

The Air Force has convened an investigative board to look into the crash. Officials would not comment on the possibility the fighter was shot down. The unnamed pilot has been classified as "duty status and whereabouts unknown," said Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, at a Tuesday news conference in Baghdad.

"Coalition reconnaissance assets and fighter aircraft were overhead when the crash occurred and confirmed that insurgents were in the vicinity of the crash site immediately following the crash," the statement said. "Ground forces secured the crash scene Monday, as soon as the combat operations in the area ceased."

Video shown on the middle-eastern television network Al-Jazeera purportedly shows smoldering wreckage of the aircraft, including shots of the fighter's tail that identifies the aircraft as AF900776, assigned to the 524th Fighter Squadron.

Responders found the single-place F-16's ejection seat, but it wasn't possible to determine if the pilot had used the seat or not -- contrary to reports from witnesses in the area that the pilot died after ejecting from the plane.

FMI: www.defenselink.mil

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