Massachusetts Air National Guard Jet Crashes in Virginia

It's still not known why the plane, which was en route from Massachusetts to New Orleans, went down

The pilot of a Massachusetts Air National Guard F-15C fighter that crashed Wednesday morning in Deerfield, Virginia, is still unaccounted for, a military official said Wednesday afternoon. It's still not known why the plane, which was en route from Massachusetts to New Orleans, went down.

"There is an ongoing rescue mission," said Col. James Keefe, 104th Fighter Wing commander. "At this time we have not had contact with our pilot. The rescue mission is ongoing. Until we know the status of the pilot, we can't release more information." 

The name of the pilot was not released, but Keefe said "he or she" is very experienced and is a full-time member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard. Virginia State Police say witnesses have shown authorities photos and videos of the crash, which is helping them focus their search efforts.

A woman who lives about two miles from the crash site said she heard it about 9 a.m. ET.

“I was laying in bed and I felt a jolt. It shook my house. I heard a big boom and a roar afterward,” Lisa Dula told NBC News. “You could see the smoke going up in the air."

The Augusta County, Virginia, Sheriff's Office said the plane crashed near Deerfield Valley Road in George Washington National Park. The pilot was the only person on board. 

No one on the ground was hurt, as the plane crashed in a remote area. But the pilot has not been accounted for.

Keefe said the crash site is in a remote, wooded, mountainous region, so cell phone use is extremely limited, making it difficult to communicate with the rescue officials on scene.

He said the Air National Guard is supporting the pilot's family, and sent people to talk with them earlier in the day.

"It's a traumatic event for everyone here," Keefe said. "We're thinking about the family."

He said the F-15C was a 1986 model and was slated to receive a radar upgrade. He said it is very unusual for these jets to crash, since they don't drop bombs and are typically used for air-to-air missions.

Garrett Beck, who works on a farm a mile from the crash site, said he heard two big booms and went outside, thinking a tractor-trailer had blown a tire.

"I turned around and there was a mushroom cloud," he said. "It looked like something you see in a movie after they dropped a bomb."

The fighter jet left Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, Massachusetts, on Wednesday morning. The 104th Fighter Wing said it lost radio contact with the jet around 9:05 a.m. during its cross country mission over the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. The pilot reported an inflight emergency prior to radio contact being lost. Subsequently, there were reports of dark smoke being seen around the jet's last known location.

Virginia State Police said earlier Wednesday that the crash site has been visually located due to heavy smoke coming from the side of a nearby mountain, but the exact site has not been identified. The terrain is described as "very rugged." The sheriff's office is setting up a command center in Deerfield, Virginia.

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