An Air National Guard fighter jet crashed into a wooded mountain area of Virginia Wednesday — a rare crash for a reliable aircraft that sparked a large-scale rescue mission to find the pilot, whose fate remained uncertain.
About 9 a.m., the pilot reported an in-flight emergency to the Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center as he was flying over the Shenandoah Valley, Barnes Air National Guard spokesman Air Force Lt. Anthony Mutti said. Minutes later, his jet slammed into a mountainside, leaving a large pock mark on the ground.
“The pilot flying the F-15C made a report of an in-flight emergency prior to radio contact being lost,” Lt. Mutti said. “Subsequently there were reports of dark smoke being seen around the aircraft’s last known whereabouts. Local law enforcement arrived on scene and confirmed the aircraft crashed.”
The pilot was traveling from his home station at Barnes Air National GuardBase in Massachusetts to Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans in Louisiana, where he expected get a new radar for his “vintage,” 1985 aircraft, according to Col. James Keefe, commander of the 104th Fighter Wing.
After the center received the pilot’s urgent message, another pilot in the area reported seeing the charred remains of the jet smoldering on the ground amid the thick brush of the wooded mountainside, Col. Keefe said.
“I can’t even tell you the last time we’ve had this happened to an F-15C model,” he said. “So our mission as F-15C pilots is air to air. We don’t drop bombs. So normally, our mission is all up high so it is not a common occurrence to have an F-15 crash.”
Almost immediately, the Virginia State Police reported problems communicating with first responders on the scene of the crash site because of poor cellphone reception in the rural area, according to Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller.
Col. Keefe reiterated Ms. Geller’s concerns, admitting that the disconnect between the recovery operation on the ground and Air National Guard officials in Washington and Massachusetts was troublesome.
“The crash site is at a very remote location,” he said. “We have tried to make communication with on-scene fire and rescue, but there are no cell communications down there.”
Air National Guard officials and rescue workers were unable to locate the pilot and there was some speculation that, if he survived the crash, he did not have his radio on him.
Officials remained hopeful that the pilot would be found safe.
“Every six months we go through ejection training as well as initial pilot training,” Col. Keefe said. “You get all the training you need as far as survival in the woods, as far as ejection, as far as communication and such — if you don’t have a radio on you. So he’s been well trained.”
There were no reports of injuries on the ground as a result of the crash, Ms. Geller said.