DEERFIELD, Va. (CBS/AP) — A military jet from Massachusetts crashed in the mountains of western Virginia Wednesday morning, but the pilot has not been found.
The F-15C jet left Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield on a mission to New Orleans but controllers lost radio communication with the single-seat aircraft just after 9 a.m. over the Shenandoah Valley.
The pilot, who has not been identified, reported an in-flight emergency at a high altitude before radio contact was lost, Col. James Keefe, 104th Fighter Wing Commander, told reporters at an afternoon news conference in Westfield.
Keefe said there is an ongoing rescue mission and they have not had contact with the pilot yet. He would not say if the pilot was able to eject before the crash.
Augusta County dispatcher Becky Coynter says witnesses reported an explosion-like noise around 9 a.m.
“It’s the loudest noise I’ve ever heard,” 63-year-old Rebecca Shinaberry, who lives on a farm about two miles away, told The Associated Press. “(It) just shook the ground, and from my house we could just see a big plume of smoke.”
No injuries were reported on the ground, but authorities are searching the crash site — located through its heavy smoke coming from a mountainside — in Deerfield, about 135 miles northwest of Richmond.
The pilot was with the 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard in Westfield.
The jet was on a standard training exercise with no munition onboard, Keefe said.
Krista Johnson, who lives in Augusta, Va., about five or six miles from the crash site, spoke on the phone with WBZ-TV’s Kate Merrill. Johnson was at work but her son was home and called her.
“He said he heard a really loud explosion and everything in the house rattled,” she said. “Then he walked outside and said he could see the smoke.”
Johnson’s son took a photo from their house of smoke rising above the mountainside.
She said she understood that traffic was being diverted from the area of the crash.
“The last I heard is they were just telling everyone to be on the lookout for the pilot and to help him and assist him in any way necessary if needed,” Johnson said.
WBZ-TV’s Lauren Leamanczyk reports:
F-15s are maneuverable tactical fighters that can reach speeds up to 1,875 mph, according to the Air Force website.
The F-15C Eagle entered the Air Force inventory in 1979 and costs nearly $30 million, the website says.
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