A technical fault or human error caused the crash of a Moroccan warplane in Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition said on Tuesday, denying rebel fire was responsible.
Yemen’s Shiite Houthi rebels said on Monday that they shot down a coalition warplane at the weekend, shortly after Morocco reported one of its fighters missing on a sortie.
Speaking to AFP on Tuesday, the spokesman for the coalition said: “We are definitely sure it wasn’t shot down”.
Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri said the F-16 pilot, who remains missing, was part of a formation and other aircraft “did not notice any firing from the ground”.
Wreckage of the plane had been located in the Houthi-controlled Saada area of northern Yemen, Asiri said, appealing for the rebels to contact the Red Cross about the airman’s fate.
“We ask these militias to be responsible about his life if he is alive, or about his body if he is dead,” added the spokesman.
Houthi news channel Al-Masirah on Monday broadcast images of tribesmen celebrating around the wreckage of a plane, which they said had been shot down over Wadi Nushur, in Saada.
The television said it was an F-16 jet while footage showed a Moroccan flag on a broken rudder lying on a rocky patch.
Morocco said contact was lost with the fighter and its pilot at 6:00 pm (1500 GMT) on Sunday, the official MAP news agency reported, citing the armed forces.
“A second plane which was flying in formation was not able to see whether the pilot ejected,” it added.
The Saudi Press Agency cited a coalition source as saying contact with the Moroccan jet was lost at 10:30 pm Sunday.
“This was while it was returning from a scheduled bombing mission against the Houthi militias,” SPA said.
This was the second reported incident involving a coalition jet since the Saudi-led Arab coalition began bombing the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen on March 26.
The day after operations began, the US military said it rescued two Saudi pilots who ejected from their F-15 warplane off Yemen’s coast.
According to Moroccan press reports, the kingdom deployed a squadron of six F-16s for Yemen operations.
Riyadh is a close ally of Rabat and a major donor.
The coalition intensified its air strikes, conducting a record of more than 130 sorties from Friday to Saturday, after declaring the rebels had crossed a “red line” with deadly mortar and rocket bombardments of Saudi Arabia last week.
A Saudi-proposed ceasefire is to take effect at 2000 GMT Tuesday, but Saudi Arabia says the Houthis must also abide by it.SHOW MORE