An F-15C military jet crashed near Deerfield, Virginia, today.
The jet came down on Elliot’s Knob in a rural area of the conjoined George Washington and Jefferson National Forests with a loud explosion and a pillar of heavy, black smoke. No injuries have been reported but the fate of the pilot remains unknown.
Officials lost contact with the F-15 shortly before the crash happened. The single-seat jet was reportedly on a routine training exercise and had no munitions on board. The Augusta County’s sheriff department said that the aircraft went down shortly after 9 a.m., startling local residents of the quiet farming town of Deerfield, which is located west of Staunton, 135 miles northwest of Richmond.
ABC7 reports that Virginia State Police put a helicopter in the air to search for the pilot, who is believed to have ejected from the jet before the crash. This was corroborated by local witnesses, who claim to have seen an ejection parachute.
63 year old local, Rebecca Shinaberry, told The Associated Press:
“It’s the loudest noise I’ve ever heard. It just shook the ground and from my house we could see a big plume of smoke.”
The Shinaberry turkey farm is only two miles from the crash site; another family member, A.D., said that he heard two booms and assumed the jet was breaking the sound barrier — until he heard the third boom, 10 seconds later.
“It was like a mushroom, black smoke came up.”
First responders entering the wooded crash site reported finding scattered debris and heavy smoke.
The Massachusetts Air National Guard has confirmed that the pilot reported an “in-flight emergency” just before losing radio contact. Traveling at a high altitude (30,000-40,000 feet), the experienced pilot was headed for New Orleans, Louisiana, to deliver the jet for a radar system upgrade. The jet, an older aircraft, originated at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, Massachusetts.
The U.S. Air Force has 249 F-15s in operation; the crashed jet was a F-15C, said to cost $30 million (£18 million). They are known as maneuverable tactical fighter planes which can reach speeds of up to 1,875 mph (3,012 kph).
The area where the jet crashed is sparsely populated and many parts of the affected National Forests lack access roads. Finding the pilot might be difficult if he came down in the forest. Elliot’s Knob, with an elevation of almost 4,500 feet, is located on the Appalachian ridge known as Great North Mountain and has only a jeep trail for access. It sits entirely within National Forest lands and is considered to be one of the highest mountains in the northern portion of Virginia.
Colonel James Keefe, 104th Fighter Wing Commander, said in a statement to the press:
“We are hopeful that the pilot is OK, and the pilot will be in our thoughts and prayers.”
Last year, the Inquisitr reported on an American F-15 fighter jet that crashed just off the island of Okinawa shortly after leaving Kadena Air Base; engaged in a training exercise, the pilot ejected safely and was rescued shortly after.
[Image Courtesy of ABC/WHSV]