The Air Force said Friday it found body parts among the wreckage of an A-10 warplane, indicating the pilot was in the cockpit when it crashed into a mountain.
“What we found was fragmentary human remains,” Maj. Gen. Nels Running said. “We are not positive whose human remains they are.”
A military lab will conduct DNA and other tests to determine if the remains are those of Capt. Craig Button, Running said.
The announcement culminated a three-week search for Button’s plane after he veered away during a training run on April 2.
The Air Force took advantage of improved weather at the site on Friday and lowered three special operations sergeants by cable from a helicopter to recover the remains. The procedure took about an hour.
Winds and rugged terrain in the snowy Rocky Mountains have made the search for remains and wreckage difficult.
Four 500-pound bombs on the aircraft have not been seen, Running said. After the snow melts, searchers will be sent to “locate and neutralize” the bombs, he said.
Moments before boarding a TH-53 helicopter, Tech Sgt. Ishmael Antonio disclosed aerial photos had revealed what appeared to be Button’s “life support equipment” and ejection seat in a gorge on Gold Dust Peak.
Officials said that was a good indicator that Button had gone down with the plane when it crashed.
His mysterious departure from a formation of A-10s during a training mission over Arizona raised questions about his intentions and condition during the flight.
Button’s disappearance had sparked rumors of varied conspiracy theories as to why a trusted, well-liked pilot would have taken the action that he did.
Air Force officials have gone to extreme lengths in recent weeks in their attempts to solve the mystery behind the pilot’s disappearance.
Hundreds of flights were flown in the attempt to find the wreckage. Officials had pored over radar charts from four states in an attempt track where the aircraft had veered off course, and to establish whether Button actually could have been in control of the plane when it departed from the formation.