GLENDALE, Ariz. – The American pilot whose F-16 crashed in Iraq this week was described by military members and his family as a husband and father of five who always completed his missions.
The military has classified Maj. Troy L. Gilbert, 34, as "whereabouts unknown."
Air Force officials said in a news conference Wednesday that human remains were retrieved from the crash site. They would not elaborate, but said figuring out whether Gilbert is dead depended largely on those remains, which were undergoing DNA identification.
Gilbert was supporting troops fighting in Anbar province, where many of the country's Sunni-Arab insurgent groups operate. Videotape footage obtained by Associated Press Television News appeared to show the wreckage of the F-16CG in a farm field and a tangled parachute nearby.
U.S. forces investigating the crash have said insurgents reached the site before American forces could.
The cause of the crash is under investigation. Officials don't believe Gilbert was shot down.
Officials switched between referring to Gilbert in the present and past tense during a Wednesday news conference at Luke Air Force Base in the western Phoenix suburb of Glendale, Ariz., where Gilbert has been stationed since 2003.
"Everybody liked him — such a hard worker. Everyone here will tell you that. He did what it took to get the mission done," said Lt. Col. John Paradis, an Air Force spokesman.
Paradis explained his and another official's careful wording when referring to Gilbert's status.
"In situations like this, the Air Force and the Department of Defense want to be extremely careful about drawing any conclusions until we can look at all the facts that we have and everything available to us to make sure the family can have some closure, regardless of what that might be," Paradis said.
"Troy was first and foremost a wonderful husband and father," Gilbert's family said in a news release issued through the military. "His Christian faith, personal values, and work ethic guided his personal life and his career as a military officer."
Gilbert, who finished undergraduate pilot training in 2001, was deployed to the 332nd Expeditionary Wing at Balad Air Force Base in Iraq in September and logged more than 130 combat hours, the Air Force said in a news release.
At Luke Air Force Base, Gilbert was assistant director of operations, executive officer of wing flying, a flight commander and chief of training.
"Major Gilbert is well-known here at Luke Air Force Base," Brig. Gen. Tom Jones said. "He is an outstanding officer, an outstanding pilot, and an outstanding friend to many people."