PHOENIX (Reuters) - An Iraqi military student pilot died when his F-16 fighter jet crashed in a desert area in southeastern Arizona, officials said on Wednesday, in the second fatal crash involving an Iraqi pilot training in the state.
The pilot was on a routine training mission with the Arizona Air National Guard when the jet crashed at about 3 p.m. on Tuesday, some 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Safford, National Guard spokeswoman First Lieutenant Lacey Roberts said in a statement.
A spokesman for the Iraqi embassy in Washington declined to comment, but a statement on the Facebook page for the Iraqi Air Force identified the pilot as Major Nour Faleh Hazam Rasn Al Khazaali.
“We express our deep sorrow for the loss of this hero who was one of the best F-16 pilots and had completed all stages of training with outstanding performance,” the Iraqi Air Force said on Facebook. “We pray to God to protect him and to give his family patience and solace.”
The student was part of a program run by the Guard’s 162nd Wing based at Tucson International Airport. The fighter was owned by the Iraqi government.
“Today we are mourning the loss of an airman and friend alongside our Iraqi partners,” Brigadier General Andrew MacDonald, commander of the 162nd Wing, said in a statement on Facebook.
U.S. military officials had said that Iraqi pilots trained by the U.S. Air Force were the first to use F-16s belonging to Iraq in the fight against Islamic State.
In June 2015, an Iraqi general died when his F-16 crashed on a night training mission near the U.S.-Mexico border.
The Air Force assembled an interim safety board to investigate the latest incident.
Reporting by David Schwartz, additional reporting by Omar Younis in Los Angeles; Editing by James Dalgleish and Cynthia Osterman