Spy planes search for Air Force pilot
Parents say son wasn't distraughtApril 12, 1997
Web posted at: 6:19 p.m. EDT (2219 GMT)
EAGLE, Colorado (CNN) -- The Air Force's U-2 spy planes have flown three search missions using a sensitive radar system in an effort to locate the A-10 Thunderbolt that disappeared in the Rocky Mountains 10 days ago.
The technology is being used, authorities said, because it can see through snow, which fell heavily after the military realized that Air Force Capt. Craig Button was missing. The search has largely depended on visual surveillance of the area where his A-10 may have crashed.
Lt. Gen. Frank Campbell said Saturday that since the Air Force began using the radar, the search has expanded from two areas to five, all in the vicinity of New York Mountain and Red and White mountains, about 15 miles from Vail, Colorado.
Asked if Button could have survived for so long in the heavy snow and cold in such terrain, Campbell replied, "I don't know."
But he added, "Many places, it's not as blanketed. Some areas there is deep snow, and in some areas it's not quite so deep. That's why we continue optical searches."
Asked if he was hopeful about the search, Campbell said, "Sure. We're getting a lot of information from imaging radar that's helping us to isolate areas. Success is taking this grid (the search area) and saying we've searched the squares thoroughly, and there's nothing there."
A spokesman for the Colorado Civil Air Patrol said that given the amount of snow that has fallen since the plane disappeared, "It could be months" before wreckage is found.
Parents say pilot 'in good spirits'
Meanwhile, Button's parents confirmed to CNN that they visited their son just before his disappearance, but denied that he was distraught at the end of their visit, as an Air Force source had said earlier.
Button was last seen April 2, just before he peeled away from a three-plane formation on a training mission over Arizona. Sporadic radar tracking and visual sightings have centered the search on a mountainous area about 15 miles southwest of Vail, Colorado.
Button was just over halfway through the Air Force school, where he was learning to fly the A-10 Thunderbolt. The jet, loaded with four 500-pound bombs, was on its way to a bombing range when it disappeared.
"We are deeply grieved over the reports we have been hearing," the parents said in a statement sent to CNN. "We just came back from being with him for six days. We had a wonderful time together, and when we left, he was in good spirits."
A senior Air Force official told CNN Thursday that Button was distraught after the visit by his parents, and upset because his mother had recently undergone a religious conversion to become a Jehovah's Witness. The official suggested that Button was under pressure from his parents because of their religious objections to war and service in the military.
In the statement, handwritten by Button's father and signed by both parents, they said their religious conversion took place more than two decades ago.
"My wife and I have been active in our Christian faith for more than 20 years, and our faith is a source of comfort and hope for us," the statement said.
Another statement, released by the public affairs arm of the Jehovah's Witnesses, said the group's beliefs "are neutral in military and political affairs. They do not oppose a government's right to engage in war, nor do they oppose or interfere with others' choice to serve in the military."
"There was no indication of any turmoil between the parents and their son," the group's statement said.
Weather a problem again
Conventional search methods were hampered again Saturday by poor weather, but there was hope that an experimental radar carried by two U-2 spy planes might be able to see parts of the plane through the low clouds and deep snow that has shrouded the mountains.
Another six military helicopters flew into the Eagle Airport Saturday to join the 10 already there for the aerial search, but low clouds covered the tops of New York Mountain and the Red and White mountains, where the search has been concentrated in recent days.
If the plane, or a piece of it, is seen, then a military ground team would go in first to assess the dangers of a snow avalanche or an explosion before others would be sent in, Campbell said.
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