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U.S. F-16 plane crashes in eastern Turkey
  
DIYARBAKIR, Turkey, July 18 (Reuters) - A U.S. Air Force F-16 warplane on its 
way to patrol the skies over northern Iraq crashed in mountainous eastern 
Turkey on Wednesday, highlighting the growing dangers faced by pilots 
enforcing a "no-fly zone." 

Fear of technical failure bringing down a patrol aircraft in northern Iraq 
has haunted the United States and Britain since "Operation Northern Watch" 
was launched some 10 years ago. Recently, that danger has been compounded by 
improved Iraqi air defences. 

A U.S. military spokesman at the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey 
identified the F-16 pilot as First Lieutenant Michael A. Nelson Jr of 510 
Fighter Squadron. 

The pilot had ejected before the crash, near the city of Batman, and was 
uninjured. He was taken to Incirlik and a team of investigators from the base 
had gone to the crash site, the spokesman said. 

The Turkish Armed Forces General Staff said the cause of the crash was engine 
failure. 

Batman is 80 miles (130 km) from the Iraqi border. 

"At the time of the accident the aircraft was en route to a mission enforcing 
the northern no-fly zone over Iraq," the U.S. spokesman said, reading from a 
statement. 

"The aircraft was assigned to Operation Northern Watch. Its home base was 
Aviano air base, Italy," he said. 

U.S. and British warplanes enforce a no-fly zone set up over a Kurdish 
enclave in northern Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War. The aircraft usually fly 
from Incirlik, a Turkish air base jointly run by Turkey and the United 
States. 

Pilots report they are coming under fire from Iraqi defences with increasing 
frequency. Iraq often claims to have hit a U.S. plane but no such claim has 
yet been substantiated. 

Had the U.S. Air Force aircraft come down in northern Iraq, the United States 
would have implemented a well-prepared rescue operation for the pilot. The 
prospect of a U.S. airman falling into Iraqi hands is particularly alarming 
to Washington. 

Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld pointed to the dangers during a recent 
visit to Incirlik. 

"We've been very fortunate that we've not had a loss," he said. "Is it 
conceivable that there could be one at some point? Certainly it is possible." 

07:48 07-18-01


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