Downed F-16 pilot identified

CNJ Staff

The pilot involved in Monday’s F-16 fighter jet crash in Iraq has been identified as Maj. Troy. L. Gilbert, who is assigned to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.

The downed plane is assigned to Cannon Air Force Base.
According to a Department of Defense news release,

Gilbert’s listed as “Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown.”
Capt. Tiffany Payette of the Central Command Air Force Public Affairs office said the primary concern of the Air Force is locating the missing pilot.

“One of their (Air Force) top priorities is to find him,” she said.

Gilbert was engaged in support of coalition ground combat operations at the time of the crash, Air Force officials said.
Gilbert is deployed to the 332nd Expeditionary Wing, Balad Air Force Base Iraq.

Although the F-16 Gilbert was piloting at the time of the crash has been confirmed as a Cannon fighter jet, Luke officials said Gilbert has never been stationed at Cannon.

An interim safety investigation board has collected DNA samples from the crash site and will release results when the testing is done, the Air Force said.

The jet crashed at 3:30 a.m. New Mexico time Monday about 20 miles northwest of Baghdad, according to military officials.

Coalition reconnaissance and fighter aircraft were overhead when the crash occurred and confirmed insurgents were near the crash site immediately following the impact, the Air Force said. As soon as the extensive ground combat operations in the area ended Monday, ground forces secured the crash scene.

Cannon’s 524th Fighter Squadron is deployed to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing at Balad Air Base, Iraq.

Cannon has more than 600 people deployed to various places, Cannon Public Information Officer Capt. Rebecca Garcia said Tuesday. She said the base does not release specifics of how many people are in Iraq.

Garcia said it is common for pilots to fly with squadrons to which they are not assigned in order to maintain their flight status active.

Under such agreements, a pilot would fly aircraft belonging to the host squadron and would support the mission of that squadron, she said.

“(Squadrons) have these agreements and these are very common practices,” Garcia said.

An interim safety investigation board convened by U.S. Central Command Air Forces has begun to gather evidence to determine what caused the crash, the Air Force said.
An Iraqi witness reported seeing the jet flying up and down erratically before it crashed.

Iraqi insurgents said they shot down the F-16 with a shoulder-fired Strela anti-aircraft missile.

If the F-16 was shot down, it would be the first combat loss of an Air Force Fighter since April 7, 2003, when an F-15E Strike Eagle went down near Tikrit, killing the two crew members.

Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, a U.S. military spokesman, said he doubted the jet was shot down because F-16s have not encountered weapons in Iraq that are capable of taking them down.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.