- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2003

TEL AVIV, Israel, Feb. 25 (UPI) — An Israeli F-16 fighter plane crashed after experiencing engine problems, the Israel Defense Forces' spokeswoman reported. The pilot bailed out safely.

The $35 million aircraft developed engine trouble during a "routine training sortie," the military reported.

On its way back to base Monday, the engine heated up and quit. The pilot tried to restart the engine twice, once when the plane was at an altitude of 4,000 feet and again at 2,000 feet said Col. Itai Alon, who is responsible for safety in the air force headquarters.

The F-16 was too far from its Ramat David airbase to glide to a landing.

"When we have no engine and no ability to control the plane we bail out at an altitude of 2,000 feet," which is what the pilot did, Alon added. The aircraft crashed north of the West Bank, some 15 miles from the air force base.

In Gaza, the Islamic resistance movement armed wing Izel Dein Al Qassam claimed it had shot down the aircraft.

In a leaflet sent to United Press International the group said the plane flew northeast of the West Bank town of Jenin when two Hamas militants opened heavy rifle gunfire from a hilltop, hit the aircraft and brought it down. The leaflet said that shooting down the Israeli aircraft "is present to the spirits of all the Palestinian martyrs that were killed by the Israeli soldiers."

Alon said the engine problem began "when the aircraft was above the clouds, there was no chance of seeing it (and) no chance of hearing it.

"Maybe they (the Palestinians) have capabilities that even we don't have, but it sounds to me absurd," he added.

(With reporting by Saud Abu Ramadan in Gaza.)

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