A U.S. F-16 fighter jet crashed in southeastern Turkey today as it was heading toward northern Iraq to patrol a no-fly zone, the U.S. military said. The pilot was rescued.
It is believed to be the first U.S. aircraft to have gone down in 10 years of patrols over the no-fly zones. The U.S. military has flown more than 200,000 sorties over the no-fly zones during that time.
The pilot ejected from the aircraft and was rescued uninjured, said Maj. Scott Vadnais, spokesman for Operation Northern Watch, the allied patrols over northern Iraq.
The Turkish military said the aircraft crashed at 10:09 a.m. (0709 GMT) due to engine failure.
Military police are examining the wreckage of the plane, the statement added.
Vadnais said the cause of the crash was not known, but added that it was not due to hostile action. Maj. Ed Loomis, a spokesman for the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, said an inquiry board would be set up to determine the cause of the crash.
Witnesses Watch Crash
The plane took off from Incirlik air base in southern Turkey and crashed near the town of Diyarbakir, about halfway between Incirlik and the Iraqi border. The aircraft was based in Aviano, Italy, and was on assignment in Turkey.
Anatolia quoted witness Abdulselam Ozkan as saying that he saw two planes flying east.
"Then, one suddenly turned north and started losing altitude," he said. "We saw a pilot jump out with a parachute, then the plane smashed into the ground with a massive crash."
Some 25 local people succeeded in putting out the fire caused by the plane's crash, Anatolia said.
Incirlik is about 350 miles from the Iraqi border.
Some 50 U.S. warplanes, including F-15 and F-16 fighters, are based in Incirlik. The aircraft patrol a no-fly zone over northern Iraq.
No-Fly Zones Challenged
The United States and Britain have been enforcing no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq since the end of the Gulf War in 1991.
Although no U.S. aircraft has gone down over the northern no-fly zone, two U.S. F-15 Eagles mistakenly shot down two U.S. Army helicopters over northern Iraq in 1994, killing 26 people. The F-15 pilots had mistakenly identified the helicopters as Iraqi.
Iraq, which regards the zones as violations of its territorial sovereignty, has been challenging the patrols since December 1998.
Russia, China and France say there is no Security Council authorization for the no-fly zones; Britain and the United States say they were authorized under resolutions calling for the protection of Shiite Muslims in southern Iraq and Kurds in the north.