Helicopters are searching for an Air National Guard pilot after his F-15 jet crashed in the mountains of Virginia this morning, military officials said.
The plane’s smoldering wreckage was found on a mountainside near the Virginia-West Virginia border, local sheriff’s officials said. So far, authorities have found no sign of the pilot.
FOR THE RECORD
9:23 a.m.: An earlier version of this post misspelled the last name of Maj. Matthew Mutti, spokesman for the 104th Fighter Wing, as Mutty.
“At this time, we have not had contact with our pilot, and the rescue mission is ongoing,” said Col. James Keefe, commander of the 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, where the pilot is based. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, regardless of the outcome.”
Sheriff's officials in Augusta County confirmed that the plane crashed in a remote, mountainous area near Deerfield, Va.
The pilot was en route to New Orleans and flying at a high altitude – about 30,000 to 40,000 feet – when officials lost communication with him about 9:05 a.m., Keefe said. Shortly before the crash, the pilot had made an “in-flight emergency” call to officials.
“He did have some notification that something was wrong with the aircraft, and did make that communication,” via radio, Keefe said.
The pilot was headed to New Orleans Naval Station so that his plane could receive new radar as part of an ongoing modernization program, Keefe said.
Keefe said local and state police, as well as fire officials, the Virginia Air National Guard and other federal agencies have responded to the site, which he said was at least 5 or 6 miles from any civilization.
Security personnel are securing the site, Keefe said, while search and rescue helicopters continue to comb the densely wooded area, where lack of cellphone service and difficult radio communication have hampered efforts.
The pilot was experienced and “well-trained to survive,” in the woods, Keefe said. It’s likely that the pilot does not have his radio if he ejected, Keefe said, as pilots are trained to release their survival gear so they don’t get caught in trees.
“I can’t tell you the last time we had a mishap in the F-15C model,” Keefe said. “This is a traumatic event for everyone here.”
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