A search continues for the pilot of a Massachusetts National Guard aircraft that went down Wednesday in a mountainous section of Augusta County this morning.
For hours, helicopters rose and landed near the Deerfield Valley Volunteer Fire Department where dozens of uniformed police officers and volunteers in T-shirts came and went by car and truck. State police and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management coordinated an air and ground search stretching 20 miles in all directions from the crash site. They also used dogs trained for search and rescue, according to state police spokesman Corinne Geller.
“It’s very heavily wooded. There’s a deep crater and then a very large debris field surrounding it. It’s an isolated area. There are no residences nearby – just a small farm, and the owners have been out to attend to the livestock. There have been no injuries reported within Augusta, and again, we’re still searching for the pilot of that aircraft.”
At a nearby library and at the local grocery store, area residents said they were praying for the pilot after waking up to this morning’s disaster. We spoke with Cindy Loan, Carey Miller and Eddy Shinnaberry.
“It was like boom, boom, boom, and I jumped up, I ran to the door and I opened the door, and I’m looking out, because it sounded like someone was trying to knock my house down. “
“I actually woke up to all the booming. My whole in box was full of messages . People thought maybe it was like gun shots or cannons or something.”
“I thought a propane tank or something blew up somewhere. See we’ve got turkey houses down here. We thought either a propane tank blew up at the turkey houses or one of these camps. These windows shook at this store, and that door blew open a couple of inches, and then we all walked out here and saw the smoke where it happened.”
Military officials said pilots routinely train to eject from aircraft and to survive in remote areas. The crash site is at one of the highest points in Augusta County – about 4400 above sea level. The pilot reported an in-flight emergency, but officials could not confirm the possibility that the pilot had ejected.
They said the aircraft was not armed but carried considerable fuel for a flight from Massachusetts to New Orleans, where the F-15 C fighter jet was scheduled for a system upgrade. Agencies taking part in the search included the county and state, along with the F.B.I. and the national forest service. Border patrol agents, who had been on a training mission in the area, also joined in the effort to locate the missing pilot.