Officials at Tyndall Air Force Base are operating on an assumption that a F-16 fighter crashed into the Gulf of Mexico after it lost contact with the base around 9:15 a.m. Thursday.


TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE ó An F-16 pilot was killed Thursday when his jet crashed in the Gulf Mexico 50 to 75 miles south of Panama City, according to Air Force officials.



Search and rescue teams with the Air Force and Coast Guard had found what they believed was the wreckage of the F-16 Falcon C by Thursday afternoon. The Air Force announced Thursday night that the pilotís remains had been found.



The pilot was not immediately identified. The Air Force said it would withhold the airmanís name for 24 hours after the notification of his next of kin to allow immediate family members to contact extended family.



Air Force personnel lost contact with the F-16 pilot about 9:15 a.m. during what was a routine, very low-risk training mission, Col. Scott Ward, commander of the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group to which the jet was assigned, said during a press conference Thursday afternoon.



Air Force and Coast Guard officials quickly deployed boats and aircraft to the area where the pilot was last in contact with another pilot participating in the mission. Debris in the area was consistent with that of an aircraft, Col. Derek France, commander of the 325th Fighter Wing, said during the press conference.



Officials didnít say whether the pilot reported any problems before contact was lost. Ward said the contact was with the other pilot on the mission, not with personnel on the ground, which is not unusual.



ďI think they were autonomously operating in the airspace,Ē said Ward, who added that a pilot has the ability to contact ground personnel.



The F-16, which costs $18.8 million, according to an Air Force fact sheet, is equipped with an ejection seat, but officials said they didnít know whether the pilot ejected, France said.



Air Force officials said in press release Thursday night that they will try to recover evidence from the crash to determine what caused it.



A board of officers will conduct an investigation, and no more information about the accident would be released until the investigation is complete, according to the Air Force.



The F-16 was developed in the late 1970s. The jets were successful when they were deployed in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm.
Thursdayís crash was at least the third one involving a Tyndall aircraft since 2012.



A pilot safely ejected from an F-22 in November 2012 after faulty wiring caused the plane to lose power. In July 2013 a QF-4 being operated remotely crashed and burned at the end of a Tyndall runway, which resulted in the closure of U.S. 98 for more than 24 hours.