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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

BBC NEWS | South Asia | US spy plane crashes in SW Asia

BBC NEWS | South Asia | US spy plane crashes in SW Asia US spy plane crashes in SW Asia
A US Air Force U-2 spy plane has crashed in south-west Asia killing the pilot, the US military has said.

The crash occurred at 2330 GMT on Tuesday, when the pilot was returning to base after completing a mission in support of US forces in Afghanistan.

A military spokesman said the location of the crash would not be released because of "host nation sensitivities".

The U-2 is a high-altitude surveillance aircraft first developed in the Cold War and manned by a single pilot.

Regional sensitivities

The cause of the crash is not known and US Central Command said a full investigation would be convened.

The specific location is not releasable due to host nation sensitivities
US Air Force Capt David W Small

The site of the crash has been secured to ensure the safety of local citizens and the integrity of the site for the investigation team, the statement said.

The United Arab Emirates agency WAM said the aircraft crashed while trying to land at an air force base in the country. The pilot's unit - the 380th Expeditionary Wing - is based at the Al-Dhafra air base, near Abu Dhabi.

Meanwhile a senior official in Iran, another country potentially on the U-2's flight path, told AP news agency that he was "not aware" of any such aircraft crashing there.

But US officials have refused to confirm the location of the crash.

"The specific location is not releasable due to host nation sensitivities," US Air Force Capt David W Small, a Central Command spokesman, said.

Correspondents say south-west Asia is a phrase often used by the US military to refer to the Middle East.

The name of the pilot will not be released until next of kin are informed.

"The airmen of the 380th Expeditionary Wing mourn the loss of a true American hero in the service of his country," Col Darryl Burke, the wing's commander, said in a statement.

The long, thin plane, with a wing-span of 100 feet (30.5m) is able to cruise at 90,000ft (27,430m) - more than 17 miles (27km) up - so high that the pilot has to wear a spacesuit.

Cold War stalwart

The U-2 was an invaluable US surveillance tool during the Cold War, able to photograph Soviet military facilities and operating in great secrecy.

In 1960 a U-2 was shot down by a volley of Soviet surface-to-air missiles. The pilot, Gary Powers, ejected but was captured and held for two years on spying charges.

It was also a U-2 that took the photographs of Soviet missiles being put into Cuba in October 1962.

Defence experts say the original U-2 aircraft were highly unsafe and 80-90% of them eventually crashed or were shot down.

But later versions, the U-2R and U-2S, though 40% bigger, are much more reliable.

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