CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) - 104th Fighter Wing Commander Col. James Keefe announced Thursday night a tragic update to the search that began Wednesday morning. The pilot, a member of the 104th Fighter Wing at the Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, was found dead at the crash site in Virginia.
The F-15 C Eagle fighter jet was on its way to New Orleans Naval Air Station to receive a system upgrade. Unfortunately, shortly after 9 o’clock Wednesday morning, the pilot reported plane troubles and then lost radio contact with a tower near Washington D.C.
Then around 9:30 a.m., reports of a plane crash came in from a wooded area in Deerfield, Virginia. The search for the pilot and the crash investigation began right away, but Col. Keefe told 22News the rescue crew could not access the crash site until late Thursday morning.
The crash site was too dangerous for investigators to get close. Then around 5 o’clock Thursday evening, they found the pilots body. “There was still some fire going on at the time, until that was safely secured as far as the hazards around the crash site itself, we were not able to actually get our investigators in to the crash site,” said Col. Keefe.
Rescue crews searched for two full days in Virginia with the hope of finding the pilot alive. 22News went to the command center, and you really don’t get a full appreciation of the size of the forest they were searching until you actually see it.
More than one hundred people, including dozens from the 104th Fighter Wing from Westfield, searched by land, and helicopters and planes searched by air for the entire day and into the night.
In the end, there was nothing that could have been done. According to Commander Robert Brooks of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, “There was evidence, we just found evidence that the ejection seat was still with the aircraft.”
Col. Keefe added that the “Search and Rescue Mission, is now one of Search and Recovery.” Out of respect for the family’s privacy, Col. Keefe said they would not release the pilot’s identity until sometime later on Friday.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and we are doing all we can to support them during this very difficult time. We ask that everyone respect the privacy of the family and allow them the time they need to grieve,” said Col. Keefe.
Below is a statement from Governor Deval Patrick on the death of the 104th Fighter Wing F-15 pilot:
“This is a very sad day for the Guard and for Massachusetts. Throughout the last couple of days, as we learned the circumstances of this accident, we held out hope that the pilot would be found and returned safely to his family. Our prayers and condolences are with his family, the Wing Command and all the Members of the Massachusetts National Guard.”
Below is a statement from Senator Don Humason (R-2nd Hampden & Hampshire District) on the death of the 104th Fighter Wing F-15 pilot:
“I join with the men and women of the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes in the feelings of senseless loss and profound sadness. The Barnestormers are a close knit group and are like part of the family of all of us in the greater Westfield area. When any part of that family is lost all of us mourn. My most sincere condolences to the pilot’s family, his co-workers, and fellow warriors. In war and in peace it is still a dangerous job that few do as well, or as proudly and professionally, as the members of the 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard. God bless them all. Rest in Peace.”