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An F-16 pilot deployed to Iraq from the 13th Fighter Squadron at Misawa Air Base, Japan, ejected safely before his aircraft crashed north of Baghdad on Sunday, according to the Air Force.

The crash occurred at 4:55 p.m. during takeoff from Balad Air Base, according to an Air Force news release.

The jet also was assigned to the 13th Fighter Squadron.

The pilot was evaluated by doctors at the Air Force Theater Hospital at Balad and released for duty, according to Maj. Robert Couse-Baker, chief of 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing public affairs, in an e-mail response.

Officials are not releasing the pilot’s name at this time, Couse-Baker said.

The cause of the mishap is under investigation, a process that typically lasts a month or longer, according to military officials.

Couse-Baker noted that “there is nothing we know of that would indicate enemy fire was a factor.”

The pilot was taking off on a combat mission to provide ground forces with close-air support, including reconnaissance and armed overwatch, according to the news release.

The F-16CJ crashed near the runway. Couse-Baker said there was no damage on the ground, though the plane was a total loss.

Sunday’s crash was the second one involving an F-16 operating from Balad since June. Maj. Kevin Sonnenberg, 42, of McClure, Ohio, was killed on June 15 after taking off on a close-air support combat mission. Sonnenberg was from the Ohio National Guard’s 112th Fighter Squadron.

Couse-Baker said that investigation is still ongoing.

Latest from the 13thSince arriving in Iraq in early June, the 13th Fighter Squadron “Panthers” have flown more than 1,500 hours — the equivalent of almost three months of flight time at Misawa, according to 13th Fighter Squadron Commander Lt. Col Steve Williams. Williams notes the statistic in his most recent call-in recording from Balad, which can be heard at DSN 226-1300.

Williams, describing some of the 13th’s work so far, said the pilots have been using their advanced targeting pods to identify homemade bombs. That information is relayed to the Army, which dispatches explosives ordnance disposal teams to clear roadways for convoys.

Williams in his phone recording also praised the work of the maintainers, who have remained focused on the mission despite the 113-degree heat, he said.

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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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