CNN logo

Yellow/Pathfinder/Warner Bros.

Main banner

Family, friends baffled by pilot's disappearance

pilot April 13, 1997
Web posted at: 1:46 p.m. EDT (1746 GMT)

Latest developments:

  • Weather improves at search site
  • Pilot's behavior 'impeccable'
  • Related stories and sites
  • BRACKETTVILLE, Texas (CNN) -- As air crews searched a Colorado mountainside for a bomb-carrying warplane and its pilot, family members and friends worked to cope with the mysterious disappearance of Capt. Craig Button.

    Ben and Rozetta Pingenot, who recently rented a home to Button in Bracketville, Texas, described the pilot as an "all-American boy" who loved flying, looked forward to the future, and got along well with his parents.

    "The one thing that made him different was his love of flying," Ben Pingenot said. "He liked everything about aviation, especially military aviation. That was his passion."

    "I just thought of him as an all-American boy."

    The Pingenots said they received a letter from Button on April 2 -- the day he disappeared -- that indicated everything was fine.


    "Flying is going well," Button wrote. "I love the A-10. Most everything we do is low level. I'll be dropping live bombs this week. The gun is a blast."

    Button and his A-10 Thunderbolt disappeared 11 days ago while on a training run. Button broke away from a three-plane formation during a flight exercise over Arizona. The plane dropped off radar in Colorado, and the Air Force suspects the A-10 ran out of fuel.

    Weather improves at search site

    Air Force officials have said they have no idea why Button, a highly regarded pilot, would have flown off course. Speculation as to why he peeled away from the formation ranges from suicide to theft.

    Air Force investigators told CNN Sunday they are reinterviewing people who earlier reported seeing what may have been the plane in the last minutes before it disappeared.

    Better weather Sunday offered searchers a chance to get a closer look at the mountains where it's suspected Button's plane may have crashed. The search includes helicopters and planes from the National Guard and Civil Air Patrol.

    The search commander, Lt. Gen. Frank Campbell, said he was still not ready to send ground teams up the mountainsides to look under the snow to check "blobs" that have been detected by snow-penetrating radar carried by U-2 spy planes.

    A senior Air Force official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told CNN last week that Button, a Mormon, was distraught after a recent visit by his parents to Tucson, Arizona, where he was learning to fly the A-10. The official suggested Button was upset because of pressure from his mother, a Jehovah's Witness, for being in the military.

    Pilot's behavior 'impeccable'

    Campbell, however, said Sunday that there was "nothing there to suggest anything out of the ordinary" in Button's demeanor. Campbell said Button's behavior was "impeccable."

    In the letter to the Pingenots, Button made no mention of any problems with his parents.

    "My folks were down for a week just recently," Button wrote. "I took them to the Grand Canyon. Would you believe they had never been there before?"

    The Pingenots described Button as having a solid relationship with his parents. However, in a conversation earlier this year with Button, they said, he indicated Jehovah's Witnesses have a problem with military personnel.

    "They don't like what I do for a living," the Pingenots quoted him as saying. Button apparently made his comments after they had asked if he was a Jehovah's Witness.

    A handwritten statement from Button's parents, Richard and Joan Button of Massapequa, New York, disputed the suggestion that their son was distraught about their religious beliefs and their visit.

    "We are deeply grieved over the reports we have been hearing," the parents' statement said. "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."

    The Jehovah's Witnesses released a statement to CNN that said their 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."


    Related stories:

    Related sites:

    Note: Pages will open in a new browser window

    External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.

    What You Think Tell us what you think!

    You said it...
    To the top

    © 1997 Cable News Network, Inc.
    All Rights Reserved.

    Terms under which this service is provided to you.