Search resumes for missing F-15 fighter pilot in Virginia (+video)

An F-15 fighter jet crashed in a remote, heavily wooded area of western Virginia on Wednesday. The F-15 pilot is missing.

By , Associated Press

Ground teams planned to resume searching Thursday for a pilot who went missing after an F-15 fighter jet crashed in a remote, heavily wooded area of western Virginia, according to a Virginia State Police spokeswoman.

Spokeswoman Corinne Geller said ground search efforts would start again at 8 a.m. for the missing pilot after being suspended at midnight.

Search teams have been searching for the missing pilot since shortly after the jet crashed around 9 a.m. Wednesday. More than 100 dozen local, state, and federal officials as well as volunteers took part in the search effort.

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The experienced pilot of the single-seat jet was headed to New Orleans for radar installation as part of routine maintenance and reported an inflight emergency, then lost radio contact, authorities said. The pilot and jet are with the 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, officials there said. The Massachusetts Air National Guard issued a statement Thursday morning saying the search was expanding with additional Air Force resources.

The guard said specially equipped HC-130 aircraft assigned to Moody Air Force Base in Georgia began searching at 3 a.m. Thursday.

The Boston Globe reports that the Massachusetts National Guard dispatched a 13-member team to help assist in securing the crash site. Brigadier General Robert Brooks, head of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, was expected at the scene on Thursday.

Aircraft specially outfitted with night vision equipment were also dispatched from the West Virginia National Guard, a senior military official directly involved in the operation said.

Officials haven't yet said what caused the crash or whether the pilot ejected. The crash caused a deep crater and a large debris field in a heavily wooded but level area adjacent to a mountain in the George Washington National Forest, officials said.

Turkey farmer A.D. Shinaberry said that from the first two sonic booms, he thought a plane had broken the sound barrier. But 10 seconds later he heard a third boom — the crash, he said.

Then, "it was like a mushroom, black smoke came up," Shinaberry said.

From the smoke, Virginia State Police said, they located the crash site.

"It is probably five, six miles from the crash site to the nearest civilization," Col. James Keefe said at a news conference in Westfield, Massachusetts, home of the fighter wing. "It's deeply wooded, and a lot of hills and mountains."

Keefe said,  that there were no munitions onboard the jet at the time of the crash.

Keefe said the plane was flying about 30,000 to 40,000 feet — "pretty high" — when the pilot reported the emergency. Keefe said it was possible the pilot ejected without his survival kit, including his radio. Pilots are trained to dump their survival gear when ejecting over heavily forested terrain to minimize the chances of getting snagged in the trees, Keefe said

F-15s are maneuverable tactical fighters that can reach speeds up to 1,875 mph, according to the Air Force website. The F-15C Eagle entered the Air Force inventory in 1979 and costs nearly $30 million, the website says. The Air Force has nearly 250 F-15s.

Several F-15s have crashed over the past few years in various states. In at least one, the pilot ejected safely. Causes included failure of a support structure for the jet and pilot error.

___

Associated Press writers Michael Felberbaum in Richmond, Brock Vergakis in Norfolk, and Stephen Singer in Westfield, Massachusetts, contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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