published Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Pilot's fate unknown in fighter jet crash in Virginia

A search helicopter lands close to the scene where an Air Force F-15C fighter jet based in Massachusetts crashed near Deerfield, Va., on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014.
A search helicopter lands close to the scene where an Air Force F-15C fighter jet based in Massachusetts crashed near Deerfield, Va., on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

DEERFIELD, Va. — An experienced pilot on a standard maintenance mission was missing Wednesday after his fighter jet crashed in the mountains of western Virginia, shaking residents but causing no injuries on the ground, military and law enforcement officials said.

The pilot of the single-seat F-15C 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 in Westfield, Mass., officials there said.

It was unclear whether the pilot had ejected himself from the jet, Col. James Keefe said at a news conference in Westfield. He noted that all pilots received ejection training every six months.

The plane was on its way to New Orleans to have radar installed as part of routine maintenance, Keefe said.

Just before 9 a.m., residents near Deerfield — about 135 miles northwest of Richmond — say they heard a series of explosions-like booms.

"It's the loudest noise I've ever heard," 63-year-old Rebecca Shinaberry, who lives on a farm about two miles away, said. "(It) just shook the ground, and from my house we could just see a big plume of smoke."

Turkey farmer A.D. Shinaberry said that from the first two 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. They reported no injuries on the ground, but police and military officials said they had no reports on the pilot.

"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."

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.

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