Libyans gather around the wreckage of a U.S. F-15 fighter jet in Ghot Sultan,… (Patrick Baz, AFP/Getty…)
Reporting from Washington — Two Air Force aviators were rescued after they bailed out of a U.S. fighter jet late Monday before it crashed in northeast Libya, apparently due to a mechanical malfunction, the U.S. military said.
Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III said both crew members were in U.S. hands.
Locklear, the operational commander of the air war in Libya, spoke by phone to repoters at the Pentagon.
A U.S. military official said one of the crew members was found by a U.S. search and rescue team and the other was found by Libyan rebels and was safe.
Referring to the crew member who was found by Libyans, Locklear said: "I understand that the Libyan people, who treated him with dignity and respect, made sure that he had medical care."
He refused to comment on reports that the recovery team sent to find the downed crew member fired on Libyans when it landed.
Photos: U.S., allies strike targets in Libya from air, sea
The F-15E Strike Eagle warplane crashed after the aircraft "experienced equipment malfunction," according to a statement put out by the USS Mount Whitney, a U.S. Navy vessel that is coordinating the air war over Libya.
The aircraft, normally based in England, was flying out of Aviano Air Base in northeastern Italy when it crashed. "Both crew members ejected and are safe," the statement said. The military said it was not releasing their identities until family members were notified
A photograph in the Telegraph, a British newspaper, showed the wreckage of what looked like a U.S. warplane in a field in Libya surrounded by onlookers.