The U.S. military launched a search and rescue mission today for the pilot of a Navy F/A-18C Hornet after his fighter jet went down during a bombing run over Iraq.
The cause of the crash was under investigation, and there was no word on the pilot's fate.
The plane, from the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk in the Persian Gulf, went down just before midnight Wednesday. It was on a bombing mission near Karbala, a city 50 miles south of Baghdad where fighting raged between U.S. and Iraqi forces.
Many of the ship's crew woke up to the news of the missing pilot, which the captain made on a speaker and asked the crew to say a prayer. The mood on the ship was somber, but bombing missions continued.
Other aircraft reported seeing surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft fire in the area where the plane disappeared, said Lt. Brook DeWalt, a spokesman for the Kitty Hawk.
At the U.S. Central Command briefing in Qatar, Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks was asked if a Patriot missile may have downed the plane. Brooks would not confirm that. He said there had been surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missile fire in the area.
"We have more examination to do at this point," he said. "It's too early for me to be able to determine what the cause was."
Brooks said the U.S. military was also investigating the loss of an Army Black Hawk helicopter. It was believed lost near Karbala, about 50 miles south of Baghdad, according to officials in Washington.
He did not say where the Hornet crashed, but Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf said an aircraft had been shot down by Saddam's Fedayeen forces.
Pentagon officials initially said the Black Hawk was downed by small arms fire near Karbala. But Brooks said: "We don't think it was a result of hostile fire."
Brooks said Central Command believed there were "some casualties." Pentagon officials said seven soldiers on the Black Hawk were killed.