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Search Underway for F/A -18 Pilot

Search Underway for F/A -18 Pilot

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BOARD THE USS KITTY HAWK (AP) -- The U.S. military launched a search and rescue mission Thursday for the pilot of a Navy F/A-18C Hornet after his fighter jet went down during a bombing run over Iraq.

The cause of the crash was under investigation, and there was no word on the pilot's fate.

The plane, from the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk in the Persian Gulf, went down just before midnight Wednesday. It was on a bombing mission near Karbala, a city 50 miles south of Baghdad where fighting raged between U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Many of the ship's crew woke up to the news of the missing pilot, which the captain made on a speaker and asked the crew to say a prayer. The mood on the ship was somber but bombing missions continued.

Other aircraft reported seeing surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft fire in the area where the plane disappeared, said Lt. Brook DeWalt, a spokesman for the Kitty Hawk.

At the U.S. Central Command briefing in Qatar, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks was asked if a Patriot missile may have downed the plane. Brooks would not confirm that. He said there had been surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missile fire in the area.

"We have more examination to do at this point," he said.

"It's too early for me to be able to determine what the cause was."

Iraqi television broadcast pictures Thursday of what it said was the wreckage of the downed Hornet. Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf claimed the aircraft was shot down by Saddam's Fedayeen, a paramilitary force.

"We're now trying to exhaust them, making them more tired until our leadership decides the time and method to clean our territory of their desecration," he said.

Navy and Marine pilots fly the F/A-18 from aircraft carriers.

The supersonic jets are armed with a 20mm cannon and can carry a range of bombs and missiles.

The easily maneuverable Hornet can operate as a fighter jet, shooting down enemy planes, or as an attack plane, bombing enemy targets.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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