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U.S. Searches for Downed Fighter Pilot

Iraq shot down a U.S. Navy F/A-18C Hornet with a surface-to-air missile Wednesday, military officials said.

There was no immediate word on the fate of the pilot. Statements released from U.S. Central Command said the twin-engine jet, flying from the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk, went down at about 3:45 p.m. EST.

The plane went down near Karbala, a city about 50 miles south of Baghdad where fighting raged between U.S. Army forces and the Iraqi Republican Guard. Iraqi forces shot down an Army Black Hawk helicopter in the same area Wednesday.

Lt. Brook DeWalt, a spokesman for the Kitty Hawk, said the Hornet had flown a bombing mission over northern Iraq Wednesday. Other planes flying over Iraq at the same time reported seeing surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft artillery fire in the same area in which the plane disappeared.

Central Command said the downing is being investigated. Officials would not comment on search and rescue operations, but both Central Command statements said the military is committed to accounting for all coalition personnel.

It was the first American fighter jet shot down during the war on Iraq. The Iraqis have downed several pilotless surveillance drones.

Navy and Marine pilots fly the F/A-18 Hornet from aircraft carriers. The supersonic jets are armed with a 20mm cannon and can carry a wide range of bombs and missiles.

The easily maneuverable Hornet can operate as a fighter jet, shooting down enemy planes, or as an attack plane, bombing enemy targets.