By Sharna Johnson and Tonya Fennell: Freedom Newspapers
CANNON AIR FORCE BASE — An F-16 that crashed Monday in Iraq was from Cannon Air Force Base, but base officials said the plane’s pilot was not from Cannon.
“All of our Cannon pilots are accounted for,” said Cannon Public Information Officer Capt. Rebecca Garcia.
Garcia said she had no information about the pilot’s fate or the cause of the crash, which occurred about 20 miles northwest of Baghdad during a mission supporting coalition ground combat operations.
Garcia referred questions regarding the pilot’s home station to the 9th Air Force, which serves as the U.S. Air Forces, U.S. Central Command. Officials from the 9th Air Force could not be reached Monday evening.
Part of the 27th Fighter Wing from Cannon, the 524th Fighter Squadron has operated from Balad Air Base in Iraq since being deployed in September, Cannon officials said.
Garcia said she could not address troop numbers for security reasons.
Base officials confirmed Cannon markings were apparent on news photos and television images that showed sections of the single-pilot aircraft.
Garcia said she was not familiar with procedures in Iraq and could not answer why a non-Cannon pilot would be flying a Cannon jet. She said at Cannon they try to associate one pilot with one aircraft. However, she said Cannon pilots do fly different aircraft at the base all the time, mostly when mechanical problems arise with their assigned aircraft.
The crash occurred at 3:30 a.m. New Mexico time in an uninhabited field in the Anbar province nine miles north of Fallujah, according to Capt. Tiffany Payette of the Central Command Air Force Public Affairs office.
“There is no indication of injuries on the ground,” Payette said, “but the status of the pilot is unknown.”
Mohammed Al-Obeidi, who lives in the nearby town of Karmah, said by telephone he saw the jet flying up and down erratically before it nose-dived and exploded in a field. He said other U.S. warplanes rushed to the area and circled above the wreckage.
Al-Jazeera television showed videotape of the wreckage in a field and what appeared to be portions of a tangled parachute nearby; the broadcaster said the video included scenes of a dead pilot but they were too graphic to air.
Cannon has lost seven F-16s in crashes since 1997, according to newspaper records.
The last crash involving an F-16 from Cannon was Sept. 10, 2002, about 50 miles west of the base during a routine training mission. The pilot was killed.
Cannon officials said they could not confirm date and circumstances of the last Cannon F-16 crash before Monday.
The Associated Press contributed to this story