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Iraqi pilot crashes Tucson-based F-16 near Douglas

An F-16 fighter jet flown by an Iraqi pilot crashed near Douglas, southeast of Tucson, Wednesday night, authorities said. The Iraqi Air Force plane was flying a night training mission with the Arizona Air National Guard, and the fate of the pilot is unknown.

U.S. and Iraqi officials confirmed that an Iraqi student pilot was flying the aircraft.

A spokesman for the Iraqi defense minister said that the crashed plane had been flown by an Iraqi pilot who had been training in the United States for four years, identifying him as Brig. Gen. Rafid Mohammed Hassan.

"We have no word yet on his fate or the reason behind the crash," Brig. Gen. Tahseen Ibrahim told the Associated Press. "We are in contact with the Americans to get more details."

"The status of the pilot is still unknown at this time," 2nd Lt. Lacey L. Roberts of the 162nd Fighter Wing of the Arizona Air National Guard said Thursday morning. "Rescue efforts continue."

Roberts said that the F-16 belonged to the Iraqi Air Force and was piloted by an Iraqi student pilot.

The crash occurred in a rural area near Leslie Canyon Road, which runs north from Douglas, local police said. Roberts said the Fighting Falcon crashed about 8 p.m., five miles east of Douglas Municipal Airport.

"At the time of the incident, it was on a night training mission with one person on board," said Roberts said.

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"The Air Force has assembled an interim safety board to investigate the incident," Roberts said.

Earlier reports by other media outlets that two jets crashed, and that a gas line had exploded due to the incident, were incorrect, a spokeswoman for the Cochise County Sheriff's Office said.

There were no injuries reported on the ground, said CCSO's Carol Capas. A woman called 911 to report "a plane was on fire in her front yard," she said. The crash caused a blaze about 400 yards wide and a quarter-mile long; the fire initially kept authorities from investigating the crash but was only smoldering by Thursday morning.

The 162nd's mission is training international pilots to fly F-16s. In addition to Iraqi military pilots, the wing's training program includes personnel from Singapore, Poland, Oman, and NATO nations, incliuding Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium. About 40 students are participating in the training program.

There are about six F-16s belonging to Iraq stationed in Tucson, part of an order for 36 of the planes placed in 2011 and 2012. Due to the instability in Iraq during the ISIS insurgency, some of the planes were delivered to Arizona for the training mission, rather than being based in that nation.

Check back for updates.

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162nd Fighter Wing

F-16s with the Air Force National Guard based at Tucson International Airport.