A specially-equipped Air Force HC-130 search-and-rescue aircraft has joined the military and law enforcement effort to find the missing pilot from an F-15C Eagle fighter that crashed in rugged and hilly terrain on the Virginia-West Virginia border, Pentagon officials said Thursday.
The HC-130, a modified version of the C-130 Hercules transport, was deployed from Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, and began flying over the area at 3 a.m. Thursday, the Air National Guard's 104th Fighter Wing said in a statement.
"This aircraft has specialized equipment designed for low-light/night-time search and rescue operations," the statement said. "Additionally, as many as seven helicopters have been conducting aerial night searches."
The fighter crashed Wednesday in the Washington National Forest near Deerfield Valley, Va. In his last radio contact, the pilot, who has not been identified, reported an in-flight emergency at about 9 a.m. Wednesday.
The aircraft was believed to have crashed about five minutes later, leaving a deep crater and a large debris field in the heavily-wooded area.
The F-15C from the 104th Fighter Wing was carrying no munitions and was on a flight from its base at the Barnes Air National Guard Base near Westfield, Mass., to New Orleans where it was to receive an upgrade to its radar systems.
Col. James Keefe, commander of the 104th, said the aircraft was delivered in 1986. He said the pilot was highly experienced and he was believed to have been flying above 30,000 feet when contact was lost.
Through Wednesday, about 100 Virginia and West Virginia state police, sheriff's deputies and fire and rescue personnel joined in the search along logging roads, fire trails and forest roads. The search slowed after dark in terrain that was considered too dangerous for off-road searches, said Corinne Geller, a Virginia State Police spokeswoman.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at email@example.com