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Officials: Pilot in F-16 fighter jet crash from Luke Air Base believed dead

(U.S. Air Force Photo)

PHOENIX — Officials said they believe the student pilot of an F-16 fighter jet from Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix has died after crashing in northwestern Arizona.

The jet crashed at approximately 8:45 a.m. Thursday near Bagdad, Arizona and was found around 2:15 p.m. Human remains were found near the plane, leading officials to believe the pilot died.

“I have directed the Airmen on scene at the crash site to transition from search and rescue to recovery operations,” Brig. Gen. Scott L. Pleus said in a release.

The pilot, who has not been identified yet, was from the Taiwanese Air Force. The F-16 was from Taiwan as well.

“Our thoughts go out to the family, friends, and members of the 21st Fighter Squadron,” Pleus said.

Pleus said the cause of the crash is unknown and announced he had established an interim safety board to begin a preliminary investigation to establish the cause.

The pilot was flying solo and participating in air-to-air combat training with an instructor at the time of the crash. Pleus said the pilot went through the training “numerous times” and was not new to flying F-16s.

The pilot had been in Arizona for about six months to complete upgrade training, Pleus said during a press conference.

Officials were notified by the crash from the pilot’s wingman and hunters in the area.

“After receiving some information from hunters in the area, our rescue pilot was able to find the crash site,” Dwight D’Evelyn with Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office said. “The hunters had seen a plume of smoke and were able to direct us to that area.”

A spokeswoman for Gov. Doug Ducey said the state has dispatched personnel from the Arizona Department of Public Safety’s Hazardous Materials Unit, Explosives Ordinance Disposal Unit and Aviation Unit to the reported location in the mountains to assist federal and local search and rescue and first responders.

Recent previous crashes involving F-16s from Luke included one on a training mission in southern New Mexico. That pilot ejected safely.

An instructor pilot and a student pilot also ejected safely in June 2013 after their two-seat F-16 hit several birds during takeoff from Luke. The jet crashed in a farm field. An Air Force investigation report said the instructor pilot was at fault because he made a rapid climbing turn after the bird strike, robbing the plane of airspeed and the ability to recover and return to the base.

In July 2008, an Ohio Air National Guard pilot died when he blacked out and his F-16 crashed in western Arizona. An Air Force investigation board found that the 26-year-old pilot made an improper turn during a dogfighting maneuver in which high gravitational forces came into play.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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