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ABOARD THE USS KITTY HAWK — U.S. forces remain hopeful that a USS Kitty Hawk pilot survived being shot down over Iraq on Wednesday and will be rescued.

“The search and rescue is ongoing for a reason,” said Lt. Brook DeWalt, Kitty Hawk spokesman. “We have full hopes of recovering the pilot alive and well.”

Central Command said a coalition Patriot missile may have brought down the F/A-18 Hornet at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday over central Iraq.

“There’s a slew of coalition forces searching for him,” Lt. j.g. Nicole Kratzer said Saturday. Kratzer is spokeswoman for Carrier Air Wing 5, embarked on the carrier.

Officials won’t release personal information, including the name or squadron of the pilot, whose air wing is based at Atsugi Naval Base, Japan, and embarked on the Yokosuka, Japan-based carrier.

Meanwhile, Kitty Hawk sailors started to catch their breath Saturday as flight operations scaled back to 12-hour days. The air wing had been flying 15 hours a day for about two weeks.

“We’ve gone up and down a few times,” DeWalt said.

Pilots said they welcome the respite, as temperatures rose this week.

“As it gets hotter, it starts to wear you out a bit more,” said Lt. Cmdr. Herb Carmen, from Rock Island, Ill., a pilot with Airborne Early Warning Squadron 115. “When you get inside a plane, it’s like a greenhouse. You start sweating like crazy \[until\] the air conditioning kicks in” about 30 minutes later.

About 70 sorties were scheduled for Saturday. On Friday, 113 sorties were flown, 57 of which were dedicated strike missions.

“We’re slightly less busy than we have been,” said Lt. Cmdr. John Enfield, 34, from Torrance, Calif., a Hornet pilot with the Royal Maces. “As the battlefield shrinks, the amount of ordnance [dropped] shrinks.”

Twenty-five Hornets and six F-14A Tomcats dropped five 1,000-pound GPS-guided bombs and 60 500-pound laser-guided bombs in and around the Baghdad area Friday into early Saturday.

Targets included artillery, tanks, vehicles, barracks, missile canisters, Special Republican Guard headquarters, armed personnel carriers and heavy equipment.

The carrier and its nearly 5,500 sailors left Japan on Jan. 20. They’ve been in the Persian Gulf since late February.

— Kendra Helmer is embedded on the USS Kitty Hawk.

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