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Wreckage Pieces Are Warplane’s Fragments Found At 11,500-Foot Level, But No Signs Of Pilot Seen

Thu., April 24, 1997

Two pieces of wreckage found on a snowy Rocky Mountain peak are from the Air Force warplane that vanished on a training mission over Arizona three weeks ago, the military confirmed Wednesday. The search for the plane’s missing pilot continued.

“I can tell you now that through the efforts of maintenance personnel at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base … we have made positive identification that these are pieces of the A-10 (Thunderbolt) aircraft,” Air Force Maj. Gen. Nels Running told reporters Wednesday night.

But he said there was no sign of the plane’s pilot, Capt. Craig Button.

“I don’t know if Captain Button was with the aircraft or was not with the aircraft so I cannot talk about remains,” Running said. “The search continues.”

Col. Denver Pletcher said two Army National Guard helicopters made trips up to the mountain’s 11,500-foot level on Wednesday and dropped off four members of a search team.

“They plan to spend the night out there,” Pletcher continued. “Their mission is to go up and see if they can find any remains.”

The weather on the mountain is better than was anticipated, Pletcher said, and the searchers should have no trouble staying there overnight. The plan was to fly them out today, but if they had to they could walk to Interstate 70, he said.

The four have cellular phones and other communications gear and all are experienced high-altitude climbers.

Earlier Wednesday, Tech. Sgt. Ishmael Antonio, trained to rescue downed pilots behind enemy lines, was lowered by cable from a helicopter to retrieve the two pieces from near Gold Dust Peak in the Holy Cross Wilderness Area, 15 miles southwest of Vail, Running said.

One piece is plastic-insulated tubing and wires, described as part of a device used to control flaps, and the other is metal with the markings of turbine parts made by General Electric.

Antonio tried to pick up the largest piece of wreckage, but it was bigger than he and he couldn’t free it from the snow, Running said. He retrieved the two smaller pieces instead.

The suspected crash site was discovered Sunday.

The helicopter couldn’t get to search headquarters Monday because of a near blizzard. It got to Eagle Tuesday but was driven back by snow when it tried to make a pass over the site.

After Antonio retrieved the two pieces, the pararescue team went back to the area Wednesday afternoon to try to recover more pieces before a spring storm dumps heavy snow.

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