Ground search turns up no signs of missing Air Force jet
Disappearance of Capt. Craig Button baffles family, friendsApril 13, 1997
Web posted at: 9:34 p.m. EDT (0134 GMT)
EAGLE, Colorado (CNN) -- Search teams from the Air Force and National Guard went into the rugged Colorado mountains Sunday afternoon but found no signs of a warplane that's been missing for 11 days.
Aerial reconnaissance missions, with a mountaineering expert on board, turned up six "suspicious" sites where the plane's wreckage might be located, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Frank Campbell.
But ground crews flown to two of those sites by helicopters found no traces of the plane after searching with metal detectors.
A third site was partially investigated, again with no trace of the plane. Campbell said searchers would return to that site -- a bowl covered with up to eight feet of snow -- Monday morning after assessing the possible avalanche risk.
The Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt jet and its pilot, Capt. Craig Button, mysteriously disappeared April 2 while on a training run over Arizona.
Button broke away from a three-plane formation. The plane dropped off radar near Eagle, and the Air Force suspects the A-10 may have run out of fuel and crashed.
Landord: Button an 'all-American boy'
As the search continued in Colorado, Button's family members and friends worked to cope with his mysterious disappearance.
Ben and Rozetta Pingenot, who recently rented a home to Button in Bracketville, Texas, described the pilot as man 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 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."
Speculation ranges from suicide to theft
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. A U-2 spy plane used for high-tech imaging of the area on Saturday was diverted to North Dakota to take pictures of flooding there, Campbell said. Another U-2 flight was scheduled for Monday.
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.
Campbell said Sunday, however, 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.
Parents: Button was not distraught
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."
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