DOUGLAS, Ariz. - An Iraqi pilot who has been training in the United States for four years was flying an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft that crashed in southern Arizona, a spokesman for the Iraqi defense minister said Thursday.
"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."
Ibrahim confirmed the pilot is Brig. Gen. Rafid Mohammed Hassan but said the pilot's fate still is not known.
The plane hit a gas pipeline and sparked a fire that has since been extinguished, said Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels.
Dannels said it was still too dangerous to begin a search-and-rescue mission. He said no civilians were injured as a result of the crash.
Hassan was the only person aboard when the plane went down during a Wednesday night training mission with the Arizona Air National Guard's 162nd Wing, the Guard said in a statement. It did not release further information about the pilot.
Rescuers were sent to the crash site 5 miles east of Douglas Municipal Airport, which is about 120 miles southeast of Tucson. The plane ruptured a gas line and sparked a fire that covered about 400 yards, Cochise County sheriff's spokeswoman Carol Capas told the Arizona Daily Star.
Angel Ortega of Douglas said he heard a loud explosion but initially thought it was thunder. He described the area around the crash as rural.
U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., said Thursday that her thoughts are with the pilot, his family and emergency responders.
"Instances like this remind us that those who wear the uniform put their lives on the line every day, and deserve our constant gratitude," she said in a statement.
CBS Tuscon affiliate KOLD-TV says a large number of emergency personnel were dispatched to the scene, but the Douglas Fire Department had to pull back due to the proximity of the gas line. The station says homes in the vicinity were being evacuated. The fire grew quickly to a half-mile long, KOLD says.
The Sierra Vista Herald, published in Sierra Vista, Arizona, says the Arizona Department of Public Safety and U.S. Border Patrol were among the agencies that responded.
Operating out of Tucson National Airport, the 162nd Fighter Wing is the largest Air National Guard fighter wing in the country, and has been training pilots since 1969, according to CBS Phoenix affiliate KPHO-TV, adding that the 162nd has three flying squadrons of more than 170 F-16s.