Pacific edition, Wednesday, July 25, 2007

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — In his latest phone recording to Misawa Air Base residents, 13th Fighter Squadron commander Lt. Col. Steve Williams briefly discusses the Misawa-based F-16CJ that crashed last week upon takeoff at Balad Air Base, Iraq.

“The pilot and everyone on the ground is safe and without injury,” he says. “We never slowed down, and continued supporting our fellow Americans on the ground shortly after the accident.”

Williams thanked “all those who maintain and inspect the life-support equipment and egress systems,” noting “the entire ejection sequence operated perfectly and safely returned the pilot to the ground.”

The pilot ejected from the plane before it crashed.

U.S. Air Force officials have not released the pilot’s name. He was evaluated at the Air Force hospital on Balad and released for duty, according to an Air Force news release.

Enemy fire is not suspected, but military officials said nothing is ruled out until the completion of an accident investigation, a process that could take a month or more.

Williams said the squadron — called the 13th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron while downrange — has continued normal operations since the accident “without missing a beat,” despite working with one fewer aircraft.

The squadron, part of the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Balad, is primarily called on to provide close-air support to coalition ground forces.

“Our mission relies on continued focus. Having support from families back home helps us keep our minds on the mission,” he said.

To hear the full recording of Williams’ message, call DSN 226-1300.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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