WESTFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) — The search for the pilot flying the F-15C fighter jet that crashed in Virginia on Wednesday has expanded.
The missing pilot is a member of the 104th Fighter Wing stationed at Barnes Air National Guard in Westfield. That pilot took off from the base in Westfield Wednesday morning before the jet crashed in a mountainous region of Virginia.
More than 100 people, including 16 people from Barnes ANG Base, are in the Washington National Forest in Virginia looking for the missing pilot. Major Matthew Mutti of the 104th Fighter Wing told 22News they flew down Wednesday night and arrived just after 11:00 p.m. Major Mutti said they have been assisting on the search and rescue mission all night long and intend on staying as long as it takes to locate the missing pilot.
Major Mutti also told 22News Thursday morning, the search mission has expanded to include several helicopters and specialty airplanes. He also said the search on the ground has slowed because the terrain there is so dangerous. There are very few roads in the area they are looking in.
Major Mutti said rescue teams used a C-26 aircraft from Syracuse. That plane is lower flying, and moves slower which he said is better for this type of search. A HC-130 aircraft was also up in the air in the early morning hours Thursday. Major Mutti told 22News that is a larger, 4 propeller aircraft with lots of infrared cameras and electronic sensors that would help indicate where the pilot is.
Rescue crews are searching in a grid-like pattern and are looking in the canopy of the trees for parachute remnants.
104th Commander Col. James Keefe told 22News 104th pilots are high trained to know exactly what to do in emergency situations. In fact, they practice emergency procedures twice a year. All F-15 are equipped with ejection seats and parachutes, but because of the high altitude and the speed of the plane, the pilot could land far from the crash site.
Col. Keefe told 22News the F-15 was following a typical cross-country route when it crashed in western Virginia. “Nothing different than what we normally do. The F-15’s are equipped just like any other aircraft with communication and navigation equipment to fly cross country.” Col Keefe added that all of the pilots at Barnes are high trained, and they have a lot of flying time.
Stay with 22News on-air and on WWLP.com for the latest on this search and rescue mission.