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Warplane lost on training mission

US and Italian aircraft have searched the Adriatic Sea after losing contact with an American fighter jet during a training mission off the coast of Italy.

The headquarters of the 31st Fighter Wing, at Aviano Air Base issued a brief statement saying the F-16 fighter had one pilot aboard when contact was lost last night. There was no immediate word on the fate of the plane or the pilot.

Initial word was that the F-16, which had taken off from Aviano, was not carrying weapons.

Italian aircraft and boats were helping in the search. The paramilitary Carabinieri force deployed helicopters, the Italian coastguard had motorboats in the area and Italian air force helicopters were also involved.

The search was focused on waters off a 9.5-mile stretch of coast between Cervia and Cesenatico in the north-western end of the Adriatic.

Italian news agency LaPresse said the F-16 had sent an alarm signal to Aviano before it disappeared, and that three other F-16s that were flying in the same training mission made it safely back to Aviano base.

Weather conditions were difficult.

"The visibility is already poor because it is night, but there is also sleet" in the area hampering visibility, said Cmdr Cosimo Nicastro of the Italian coastguard. The coastguard asked three commercial cargo ships in the area to help out.

The area of sea where the search was being concentrated was about 10 miles off the coast, Cmdr Nicastro said.

An Italian coastguard plane was also involved in the search mission, along with its rescue boats.

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