April 15, 1997 in Nation/World

Missing Pilot Could Have Ejected

Associated Press

A pilot who disappeared with an A-10 Thunderbolt jet almost two weeks ago could have disabled an emergency beacon and secretly bailed out over the Rocky Mountains, an Air Force official said Monday.

The possibility Capt. Craig Button is alive is one issue lending urgency to the search for him and the $9 million jet. Another is that the plane carried four 500-pound bombs.

Air Force officials initially doubted Button bailed out because the ejection seat automatically sends out a homing beacon. But pilots can switch off the beacon because it emits a signal that could be intercepted by the enemy in wartime.

Button, 32, and his A-10 disappeared April 2 during a practice run in Arizona. Radar data and witness accounts indicate Button broke away from his formation and flew to Colorado - about 800 miles off course - and Air Force officials said they don’t know why.

Ground and air searches focused Monday on five possible crash sites, reduced from eight that were targeted Sunday in a remote area of the Rockies. The five sites in the area of the 12,500-foot New York Mountain contain “irregular shapes that are not normal in nature,” Lt. Gen. Frank Campbell said.

An excursion into three of those sites Monday afternoon revealed little new information.

The search was suspended at nightfall and was to resume today.

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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