Fighter Jet Crashes, Burns in Virginia Forest

An F-15C fighter jet based at a National Guard facility in Massachusetts crashed Wednesday into a national forest in central Virginia, an Air Force spokesperson said.

The jet is a one-person craft and the status of the pilot was not immediately known, Maj. Candice Ismirle said.

Authorities searching the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest near Deerfield, Va., were questioning a witness who reported seeing an ejection from the jet and a parachute, according to emergency scanner traffic. The witness' account could not be immediately confirmed.

A helicopter was dispatched to the scene to look for signs of a survivor in the dense forest.

The F-15C is from the 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, located at the Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, Mass.

It lost radio contact with the base during a cross-country mission over the Shenandoah Valley, according to a statement from the National Guard Base.

Maj. Matthew Mutti, a spokesman for the 104th Fighter Wing, told the Los Angeles Times that the pilot was en route to a nearby base to receive a "system upgrade." The jet was on a standard training exercise and was not carrying any munition onboard, Mutti said.

Augusta County Sheriff's Office dispatcher Becky Coynter said witnesses reported hearing a loud noise that sounded like an explosion just before 9 a.m. Wednesday. Coynter said military officials in Washington told local authorities that communication with a military jet had been lost.

"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."

Emergency responders approaching the scene had reported visible smoke on the horizon, The News Leader in Staunton, Va., said. "I'm on location, with smoke, and we do have debris," said one responder on emergency radio frequencies at 10:04 a.m. ET. "I got debris everywhere ... I haven't located anybody."

Law enforcement officers who had approached the site of the crash were advised that the smoke could be toxic.

The emergency dispatcher said on the scanner that the Federal Aviation Administration had called to advise that the plane was not armed, but that the fuel is "corrosive."

Police closed an area road, Old Parkersburg Turnpike, to non-emergency traffic.

The 104th Fighter Wing supports Air Force wartime efforts, and organizes, trains and equips personnel to provide an operationally ready squadron to the Air Combat Command.

Contributing: The (Staunton, Va.) News Leader; Associated Press

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