SHAFAQNA – An F-15C fighter jet based at a National Guard facility in Massachusetts crashed Wednesday into a national forest in central Virginia after reporting an in-flight emergency and losing radio contact, officials said.
The jet, from the 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, is a one-person craft and the status of the pilot was not immediately known, said Maj. Candice Ismirle, an Air Force spokeswoman.
The Pentagon indicated the jet was en route to Louisiana from its base in Westfield, Mass. The pilot made a report of an in-flight emergency, then lost radio contact, officials said
“We are hopeful that the pilot is OK, and the pilot will be in our thoughts and prayers,” said Col. James Keefe, commander of the 104th Fighter Wing.
Authorities searching the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest near Deerfield, Va., were questioning a witness who reported seeing an ejection from the jet and a parachute, according to emergency scanner traffic. The witness’ account could not be immediately confirmed.
A half dozen helicopters — including at least two military choppers — were looking for signs of a survivor.
Maj. Matthew Mutti, a spokesman for the 104th Fighter Wing, said that the plane was being taken to a base to receive a “system upgrade.” It was not carrying any munition, he said.
Augusta County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher Becky Coyner said witnesses reported hearing a loud noise that sounded like an explosion just before 9 a.m. Wednesday. Coyner said military officials in Washington told local authorities that communication with a military jet had been lost.
“It’s the loudest noise I’ve ever heard,” 63-year-old Rebecca Shinaberry, who lives on a farm about 2 miles away, told the Associated Press. “(It) just shook the ground, and from my house we could just see a big plume of smoke.”
Emergency responders approaching the scene had reported visible smoke on the horizon,The News Leader in Staunton, Va., said. “I’m on location, with smoke, and we do have debris,” said one responder on emergency radio frequencies at 10:04 a.m. ET. “I got debris everywhere … I haven’t located anybody.”
Law enforcement officers who had approached the site of the crash were advised that the smoke could be toxic.
The emergency dispatcher said on the scanner that the Federal Aviation Administration had called to advise that the plane was not armed, but that the fuel is “corrosive.”
The 104th Fighter Wing supports Air Force wartime efforts, and organizes, trains and equips personnel to provide an operationally ready squadron to the Air Combat Command.
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 about $30 million, the website says. The Air Force has nearly 250 of them.
Contributing: The (Staunton, Va.) News Leader; Associated Press