Air Force says missing pilot may be alive
Search continues for vanished plane
April 15, 1997
EAGLE, Colorado (CNN) -- Searchers on the ground Monday came up empty-handed in their attempt to find clues to the disappearance of Air Force Capt. Craig Button and his A-10 Thunderbolt.
Still, the military says there may be a slim chance Capt. Craig Button is alive, nearly two weeks after his plane vanished.
"We think he was with the aircraft," said Col. Denver Pletcher. "We're hoping he's still with it and alive."
But after more than 200 flights over the snow-covered peaks and wooded valleys of the 12,500-foot New York Mountain area, there is no sign of the $9 million warplane, the four bombs it was carrying or its pilot.
Another possible crash site will be looked at Tuesday after prospector's equipment detected "things like aluminum and iron," officials said.
Two Army UH-60L Blackhawk helicopters especially suited for high altitude work have joined the search, ferrying ground search teams to the rugged terrain on New York Mountain.
"It's a very rough area, lots of peaks, lots of deep valleys," said Dick Dixon, owner of Dixon's Outfitters in nearby Avon. "The eastern portion, because of avalanche danger and steepness, is very difficult."
Also joining the search was an SR-71 Blackbird, a spy plane with highly sensitive radar that can fly high enough to see the curvature of the Earth.
Pilot's actions a mystery
The Air Force plane vanished from radar during a routine training mission in Arizona 13 days ago. It's believed the attack aircraft -- nicknamed the "Warthog" -- either crashed or landed in a mountainous area about 15 miles southwest of Vail.
Radar data and witness accounts indicate Button broke away from his formation and flew to Colorado -- about 800 miles off course -- and Air Force officials said they don't know why.
The Air Force has said Button made many cross-country flying trips during his training and they may have involved stops in Colorado; he has a brother in Denver.
Military investigators also have been looking into Button's background in hopes of finding an explanation. The probe includes the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations, which typically handles criminal matters such as fraud and counterintelligence.
No "derogatory evidence" into Button's past has been found, officials said.
Sheer cliffs and dangerous conditions are limiting search efforts. Some areas may not be accessible for a ground search "until the snow melts" because of the dangerous terrain and threat of avalanche, Lt. Gen. Frank Campbell said. The avalanche threat increases with the temperature, which is rising in the search area.
When asked what he expected to find during the search flights, Pletcher said, "you're basically not looking for an airplane. You're looking for a junk yard."
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