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HILL AIR FORCE BASE — An F-16 pilot assigned to the 388th Fighter Wing is safe after ejecting from his fighter jet right before it crashed during a training flight Friday in Utah's western desert.
"You can deal with all of the things that have to happen, but we are very blessed today that the pilot is OK," said 388th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Scott Long. "He walked to the helicopter and he's fine."
The pilot, whose name was not released, is a captain.
"He's probably one of our top pilots, very experienced and instructor pilots," Long said.
There were 14 fighter jets in the air performing a training exercise when the jet crashed around 8:35 a.m. in flat terrain 50 to 60 miles west of the base.
The Air Force was preparing for a safety investigation board, which will try and determine exactly what caused the fighter jet to go down, said Col. Pat Wade, vice commander of the 419th Fighter Wing.
"They are going to take a very critical look and an open look to see what exactly caused this accident and try to use that information to avoid having these issues in the future," he said.
That process takes about 30 days. Following that investigation, a separate accident investigation board will look at the incident and find what other issues could have led to the crash.
The average age of the F-16s is 22 to 24 years. Both wing commanders called the jets old, but reliable. Long said he had no confidence issue with the F-16.
"We have fantastic maintainers in the 388th and 419th fighter wings, and they work on these jets to keep them polished and operating well all the time," Wade said.
In about 60 days, results from both boards will be back. For now, Hill Air Force Base has suspended all flying operations. Hill expects to resume those sometime next week.
The 388th has been very busy since 9/11 with many deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world. This was the first time in a long time all of their fighter jets were home at Hill Air Force Base.