A Massachusetts-based Air National Guard F-15 C Eagle military fighter jet that took off from Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield crashed Wednesday morning in Virginia.
Col. James Keefe, 104th Fighter Wing Commander, said during a news conference at Barnes Air National Guard Base that the location of the pilot remains unknown. He did not say whether or not the pilot was able to eject from the aircraft before the crash.
Officials from the Augusta County Sheriff's Office said that they have cleared a path to the crash site, but have not located the pilot.
The crash site, which is being circled by helicopters, is approximately five miles from any sort of civilization and there is no cell phone service. The area of the crash is about 4,000 feet in elevation and is a remote, wooded area, Keefe said.
Deerfield is approximately 150 miles southwest of Washington D.C. near the boarder of Virginia and West Virginia.
At about 9:05 a.m. the 104th Fighter Wing lost radio contact with the aircraft while it was flying over the Shenandoah Valley. The lone pilot, who Keefe called a very experienced pilot, reported an inflight emergency prior to radio contact being lost while flying at an elevation near 40,000 feet.
Local law enforcement reported seeing smoke at about 9:06 a.m. in the area where the jet last made radio contact. State police and the Augusta County Sheriff's Office continue to work to get to the crash site. A member of the Virginia Air National Guard will soon take command of the crash site, Keefe said.
The F-15, which was a 1986 model, was on a cross-country mission to receive a radar system upgrade and was not carrying any munitions. The plane was being flown to the New Orleans Naval Air Station, Keefe said.
"Information on this incident is developing rapidly and we are not going to speculate on what occurred or the status of the pilot," Keefe said. "We are hopeful that the pilot is OK, and the pilot will be in our thoughts and prayers as the events of this incident unfold."
Keefe said the pilot's family has been notified and that they have sent a member from the 104th Fighter Wing to meet with them.
Brig. Gen. Steven D. Vautrain, commander of the 439th Airlift Wing, issued this statement Wednesday afternoon:
"The men and women of the 439th Airlift Wing send our heartfelt prayers and thoughts to our friends with the 104th Fighter Wing. We proudly partner with our Air National Guard brothers and sisters as part of the Total Force team of the U.S. Air Force."
Keefe said that pilots go through ejection training every six months, which includes survival training. F-15 C's are single seat jets that do not fly combat missions. They fly air-to-air missions at a high elevation, so it is extremely uncommon to have a crash, Keefe said, adding that he could not remember the last time they lost an F-15 C.
During their ejection training, pilots are taught to release their survival gear if they are going down over a wooded area so they do not become hung up in the trees, Keefe said.
The F-15 C is a tactical fighter that weighs more than 31,000 pounds and can reach up to 1,875 mph (Mach 2). The F-15C costs $29.9 million, according to the Air Force website. The Air Force has approximately 250 F-15 C Eagles.
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