The U.S. military in the Gulf says it will not rule out the possibility that a U.S. Navy F/A-18 fighter jet that went down overnight in southern Iraq was shot down by friendly fire. U.S. spokesmen say that incident and the downing of an Army Blackhawk helicopter in central Iraq are being investigated.
First reports said that the carrier-based F/A-18 Hornet was downed by an Iraqi missile. But VOA Correspondent Alysha Ryu, who is traveling with the U.S. forces in central Iraq, quotes what she describes as the highest military sources in the field as telling her that the single-seat fighter appears to have been shot down by a coalition Patriot air defense missile.
"What they believed happened this morning was that there were two Iraqi missiles that went up, and Patriots were called on to intercept those missiles. The Patriots went up, and they believe that the F/A-18 Hornet crossed the path of the Patriot, and the Patriot knocked it down in error. Now, that is unconfirmed they are still investigating and looking into that, but it looks like it was a friendly fire incident," she said.
A senior U.S. spokesman at Central Command headquarters in Qatar, who asked not to be identified, said he would not confirm the report that the fighter was shot down by a coalition Patriot. But he says he would not dissuade anybody from broadcasting it. Another spokesman said earlier that nothing is being ruled out.
Military officials say a search is underway for the pilot of the aircraft, which was returning to its base on the carrier Kitty Hawk after carrying out a bombing mission. The Hornet is the first U.S. fighter to be shot down since the Iraq War began two weeks ago.
Central Command is also investigating the downing of a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter late Wednesday near the central Iraqi town of Karbala, the scene of heavy fighting between units of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division and Iraq's Republican Guard.
Central Command says at least six people were aboard the helicopter, but it would not discuss possible casualties. Reports out of Washington quote Pentagon sources as saying the helicopter was carrying 11 people, seven of whom were killed. Those sources are quoted as saying the Blackhawk was brought down by Iraqi small arms fire.