Mystery surrounds F-16, pilot in Iraq crash
November 29, 2006
The pilot of an F-16 that crashed Monday in Iraq’s Anbar province is officially listed as Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown, as defense officials confirmed that the plane — though not the pilot — was assigned to a squadron deployed to Iraq from New Mexico.
Pentagon officials have not confirmed broadcast reports and video and still images apparently showing the pilot’s body and parachute on the ground. The pilot’s body was apparently removed before U.S. forces arrived on the scene after the crash, officials said Tuesday.
Air Force officials at Central Command said they had seen a video from Al-Jazeera showing what was “purported to be the pilot’s body,” but the military said they could not authenticate or validate the footage.
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that videotape footage obtained by AP Television News appears to show the wreckage of a U.S. single-seat F-16CG jet in the farm field where it crashed Monday and the remains of an American serviceman with a tangled parachute nearby.
At a Pentagon press briefing Tuesday morning in Arlington, Va., spokesman Bryan Whitman offered no new details of the crash or the status of the pilot. Late Monday, a spokeswoman from Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, confirmed that the downed aircraft belonged to the 524th Fighter Squadron, 27th Fighter Wing, part of which is deployed to Balad Air Base, north of Baghdad.
But, Capt. Rebecca Garcia said, all of the wing’s pilots were accounted for.
It was unclear how often or why a pilot from another squadron would be flying an aircraft assigned to that wing, officials said.
Late Tuesday, a pair of insurgent groups in Iraq — the Mujahideen Army and the Mujahideen Shura Council — issued a joint statement claiming they had shot down the aircraft.
Earlier, the top military spokesman in Baghdad said it was unlikely that the plane had been shot down, citing the speed at which the jet normally operates and the lack so far of insurgent weapons capable of hitting a fighter jet.
The jet went down around 1:30 p.m. Monday in an empty field north of Fallujah. The Associated Press quoted one witness, who was interviewed by phone, as saying the plane had been flying erratically before it nose-dived into the field.
U.S. officials said other aircraft circled above the downed F-16 and observed insurgents move in on the crash site.
Reporters Jeff Schogol and Lisa Burgess contributed to this report from the Pentagon.