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Published: Saturday, 6/16/2007

Henry County pilot dies in Iraq plane crash


A pilot with the Ohio Air National Guard s 180th Fighter Wing at Toledo Express Airport was killed yesterday when the F-16 fighter jet he was flying crashed just north of Baghdad, military officials said.

Kevin Sonnenberg, who lived north of McClure, Ohio, in Henry County, died when the aircraft crashed.

A sobbing woman who said she was a relative of Mr. Sonnenberg answered the phone at his home and asked not to be contacted by the media.

Please allow us to grieve in private and do not contact anyone in the Sonnenberg family, she said.

Bob Kane, a former commander of American Legion Post 332 in McClure, knew Mr. Sonnenberg and said many people in the small Henry County town were talking yesterday about his death.

The Ohio Air National Guard s 180th Fighter Wing is stationed at Toledo Express Airport.
The Ohio Air National Guard s 180th Fighter Wing is stationed at Toledo Express Airport.

He d do anything for anybody, Mr. Kane said. He did speak at the schools and talked to the kids.

He also called Mr. Sonnenberg a family man.

Greg Smith, a trustee of Damascus Township, where Mr. Sonnenberg lived, said: He was a likeable person.

Mr. Kane said members of the Legion called the Sonnenberg family yesterday to offer condolences.

Lt. Col. Carole Allan, executive officer for the 180th, confirmed the crash but would not confirm the pilot s identity.

No information about the crash was released. The cause is under investigation, military officials said.

The aircraft was from Tulsa, Okla., Colonel Allan said.

The plane was deployed to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing, which has headquarters at an air base near Balad, Iraq, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, Colonel Allan said.

The plan was part of our deployment, she said. We partner with another Air National Guard unit [in Tulsa] and we combine our equipment and we take turns with our personnel.

The crash occurred at 12:27 a.m. yesterday in Baghdad (4:27 p.m. Thursday in Toledo) 35 miles north of Baghdad, Colonel Allan said.

Mark Wayda, director of government public affairs for the Ohio Air National Guard, also would not confirm the pilot s name.

We do know that [the jet] was part of the 180th group that is in Iraq, Mr. Wayda said.

Last month, 350 members of the 180th were deployed to Iraq for 45 days. Before they left, family members filled a hangar at the 180th s base to recognize the men and women being deployed.

The 180th is made up of pilots, aircraft and vehicular mechanics, munitions specialists who build bombs and load them on planes, truck drivers, security police, engineers, and numerous others, ranging in age from 18 to about 58.

In 1997, Mr. Sonnenberg, who was then a captain, spent time enforcing the no-fly zone over part of Iraq.

Word traveled quickly through the village of McClure and Damascus Township, where Mr. Sonnenberg farmed with his father.

Dadburn, it s coming so close to home, said Robert Behnfeldt, a retired McClure postmaster. It made me sick to my stomach.

Mr. Behnfeldt said that Mr. Sonnenberg was a pilot for Delta Airlines, as is his own son, Barry.

Still, he often saw Mr. Sonnenberg at the annual McClure Radish Festival, which begins today, or on election days in McClure, where Mr. Behnfeldt is a poll worker.

He was a personable guy. He was a heck of a nice kid, Mr. Behnfeldt said.

Staff writer Mark Zaborney contributed to this report.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:imessina@theblade.comor 419-724-6171.

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