February 21, 2008 in Nation/World

Air Force pilot dies in collision

Melissa Nelson Associated Press

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – An Air Force fighter pilot died Wednesday after his jet and another presumably collided during a training exercise, and crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. The other pilot was rescued and is expected to survive.

The single-seat F-15C Eagles crashed Wednesday off the Florida Panhandle, said Col. Todd Harmer, commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing, 58th Fighter Squadron. The pilots had ejected.

The cause of the collision about 35 miles south of Tyndall Air Force Base was not immediately known, but the Air Force will investigate, Harmer said. Weather in the area was clear.

The exercise emphasized “basic maneuvers and tactics,” Harmer said.

A Coast Guard rescue jet located one pilot and radioed the location to a fishing vessel, which picked him up, said Coast Guard Petty Officer James Harless. A Coast Guard helicopter then hoisted the pilot off the vessel.

That pilot told rescuers he saw the other pilot eject but lost him in the clouds, Harless said. He told them the approximate location of the second pilot, who was found by a Coast Guard helicopter, Harless said.

Both pilots had been with the wing “for quite some time,” Harmer said.

No debris from the jets has been found, Harless said.

The Air Force grounded all of its F-15s – nearly 700 – after the catastrophic failure of an F-15C during a routine training flight in Missouri in November. The pilot safely ejected.

Most were back in service by January, but others were grounded indefinitely after defects were found.

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